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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 606515358, [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: Miller, Orton and Mulligan:
      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, The Good Earth, New York: Modern Library, 1944, Chapter 11, pp. 80-81,[2]
      [] 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 606515358, [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], H[enry] Lawes, editor, A Maske Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634: [] [Comus], London: [] [Augustine Matthews] for Hvmphrey Robinson, [], published 1637, OCLC 228715864; 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 1113942837, 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 1033416756, 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, London: Basil Montagu Pickering, 1868, p. 37,[3]
      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

Related terms[edit]