Hathos: “Feelings of pleasure derived from hating someone or something.” (Source: Word Spy.) A blend of hate and pathos. Pronounced HAY-thos; th as in thin.
According to Word Spy, hathos first appeared in print on May 17, 1987, in a Washington Post article by journalist Alex Heard, “Beyond Hate: The Giddy Thrill of Hathos.” (Original article not found online.) Heard defined hathos thus:
A pleasurable sense of loathing, or a loathing sense of pleasure, aroused by certain schlocky, schmaltzy or just- plain-bad show-business personalities: “Hearing the audience applaud when Dr. Joyce Brothers told Merv Griffin that, aside from being a brilliant comedienne, Charo is a ‘genius on the classical guitar’ filled me with hathos.”
In December 2008 Alex Heard contacted the author of a blog called “The Hathos: The Attraction of Revulsion”* to provide additional history:
It was actually invented on Super Bowl Sunday in 1985. That night I had to write a New Republic article about Frank Sinatra’s cranky attitude toward the media when he was coordinating Reagan’s second inaugural “gala.” He got miffed about a story in the Washington Post and said to a group of reporters, “You read The Post this afternoon? You’re all dead, every one of you. You’re all dead.”
I was trying to think of a word that describes that cringe-y feeling you get when celebs go AWOL. I was at a Super Bowl-watching party with various people, including a guy from Kansas named Scott Richardson who worked as a press aide on the Hill at the time. We started tossing ideas around and eventually came up with hathos, which basically combined hate + pathos to form a word that had a new meaning all its own.
Scott and I have “debated” over the years who actually thought of the word. I think I did, he thinks he did. I was drinking more that day, so … there’s a decent chance he’s right. In any event, he was definitely the co-creator of the word and concept, and he should get credit for this important (?) addition to the language.
For the last four years or so, the journalist Andrew Sullivan, who writes The Daily Dish blog at The Atlantic, has been the stalwart keeper of the hathos flame. In February 2007, in what may be his original use of the word, Sullivan wrote:
Hathos is the attraction to something you really can't stand; it’s the compulsion of revulsion. I feel that way about Bill O’Reilly. Hannity is just evil. Grace is unwatchable past two minutes. O’Reilly, however, is compelling in some mysterious way. I need a fix every now and again - and not just of the turkey wobble neck. You find yourself watching him the way you sometimes smell your own farts: It’s disgusting, but you can't help yourself.
Since then, Sullivan has issued regular hathos alerts, hathos red alerts, Christmas hathos alerts, and Christmas hathos red alerts. He has also hosted hathos contests such as the one last November that asked readers to name “the worst pop song designed to reflect a profound moral conscience, a political cause, or a general form of celebrity-as-intellectual-activist.” He called the contest “Shut Up and Sing.”
* The Hathos blog apparently ceased publication in September 2009.