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From Middle English pitous, from Old French piteus, pitus.


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piteous (comparative more piteous, superlative most piteous)

  1. Provoking pity, compassion, or sympathy.
    Synonyms: heartbreaking, heartrending, lamentable, pathetic, pitiful
    • c. 1603–1606, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of King Lear”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene iii]:
      [] with his strong arms
      He fastened on my neck, and bellowed out
      As he’d burst heaven; threw him on my father;
      Told the most piteous tale of Lear and him
      That ever ear receiv’d;
    • 1782, Frances Burney, Cecilia, London: T. Payne & Son and T. Cadell, Volume 2, Book 3, Chapter 4, p. 51,[1]
      [] my strength, madam, is almost all gone away, and when I do any hard work, it’s quite a piteous sight to see me, for I am all in a tremble after it, just as if I had an ague []
    • 1855, Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom. [], New York, Auburn, N.Y.: Miller, Orton & Mulligan [], →OCLC:
      In the deep, still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead, heavy footsteps and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door.
    • 1931, Pearl S. Buck, chapter 11, in The Good Earth[2], New York: Modern Library, published 1944, pages 80–81:
      [] you go out to beg, first smearing yourself with mud and filth to make yourselves as piteous as you can.”
  2. (obsolete) Showing devotion to God.
    Synonyms: devout, pious
  3. (obsolete) Showing compassion.
    Synonyms: compassionate, tender
    • 1595 December 9 (first known performance), William Shakespeare, “The life and death of King Richard the Second”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act V, scene 3]:
      Thine eye begins to speak; set thy tongue there;
      Or in thy piteous heart plant thou thine ear;
      That hearing how our plaints and prayers do pierce,
      Pity may move thee ‘pardon’ to rehearse.
    • 1634 October 9 (first performance), [John Milton], edited by H[enry] Lawes, A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634: [], London: [] [Augustine Matthews] for Hvmphrey Robinson, [], published 1637, →OCLC; reprinted as Comus: [] (Dodd, Mead & Company’s Facsimile Reprints of Rare Books; Literature Series; no. I), New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1903, →OCLC, page 29:
      The water Nymphs that in the bottome playd
      Held up their pearled wrists and tooke her in,
      Bearing her straite to aged Nereus hall
      Who piteous of her woes rea[r’]d her lanke head,
      And gave her to his daughters to imbathe
      In nectar’d lavers strewd with asphodil,
    • 1728, [Alexander Pope], “Book the Second”, in The Dunciad. An Heroic Poem. [], Dublin, London: [] A. Dodd, →OCLC, page 21:
      With that the Goddess (piteous of his case,
      Yet smiling at his ruful length of face)
      Gives him a cov’ring,
    • 1783, William Blake, “An Imitation of Spenser”, in Poetical Sketches[3], London: Basil Montagu Pickering, published 1868, page 37:
      Or have they soft piteous eyes beheld
      The weary wanderer thro’ the desert rove?
      Or does th’ afflicted man thy heavenly bosom move?
  4. (obsolete) Of little importance or value.
    Synonyms: miserable, paltry, pathetic, mean, pitiful
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book IX”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], →OCLC; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC, lines 1030-1034:
      [] calling to minde with heed
      Part of our Sentence, that thy Seed shall bruise
      The Serpents head; piteous amends, unless
      Be meant, whom I conjecture, our grand Foe
    • 1719 May 6 (Gregorian calendar), [Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, [], 3rd edition, London: [] W[illiam] Taylor [], published 1719, →OCLC, pages 158-159:
      [] my Business was now to try if I could not make Jackets out of the great Watch-Coats which I had by me, and with such other Materials as I had, so I set to Work a Taylering, or rather indeed a Botching, for I made most piteous Work of it.

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