• The lowest level, amount, or value that is reached
  • In astronomy, the location on the celestial sphere that is directly beneath the observer and opposite to the zenith


Just how low can you go? Pretty low, as it turns out. On dry land, the bottommost elevation you can get to is the shore of the Dead Sea in Israel, which is over 1300 feet below sea level. Below that is the Krubera Cave in Georgia, a pit known to be far more than 7000 feet deep. And the lowest of all: Challenger Deep, an area of the Marianas Trench that, at over seven miles below sea level, has only been breached by three people at the time of this writing. Depending on your perspective, all of these places are valid candidates for a nadir.

Nadir is most commonly used to describe the lowest point that someone or something reaches. A nadir can take the form of a physical location (such as the bottom of an arc), a measurable amount (like a record low in temperature) or a qualitative value (such as a person's success or self-worth). The latter usage is perhaps the most flexible, and it sometimes comes with an unfavorable connotation. This application of nadir can give a negative value to the actions or esteem of a person or group, characterizing the subject as in some way unfortunate or undesirable. For instance, a person might consider a time when he lost his job as the nadir of his career. It is important to note that the usage of nadir in any context implies that one can go no lower, as well as that all points before and after must be equal or higher in value.

Nadir also has a more specific use in the field of science. Astronomers describe the nadir as the location on the celestial sphere that is directly below the highest point, called the zenith. If you were to imagine the sky as a spherical dome surrounding the earth, the nadir would be the point on that dome directly below your feet. Nadir also sometimes refers to the downward direction of this point, defined formally as the line 180 degrees from the zenith.

Example: The hawk grabbed its prey at the nadir of its dive.

Example: The snobbish billionaire assumed that the downtrodden neighborhood was the nadir of society.

Example: The astronomer recorded the time that the Sun reached the nadir.

Example: The nadir for Julia's white blood cells occurred seven days after the therapy as predicted by her oncologist.


English speakers have classical Arabian astronomers to thank for nadir! Stemming from nazir, the Arabic word for "opposite" or "reverse," the term was initially used by these early scientists to describe the "opposing path" to the zenith taken by a celestial object. This astronomical usage was adopted by English speakers in the fourteenth century, and over the next three hundred years the meaning of nadir would be adapted and expanded to define the lowest point of any object.

In Literature

From Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons: A Novel:

First day or not, it was still that nadir in the weekly cycle of Dupont social life, Monday night.

Here, the narrator uses nadir to emphasize that Monday nights are rarely a prime time to mingle or go out with friends.


  • Nadir is the name of the lowest place.
  • For Hindi and Urdu speakers: Bottom of a nadi (river) is its nadir


Nadir is sometimes seen as a first or last name. The use of Nadir as a name is a convention of Arabic origins, and today it is most common among people of Middle Eastern descent.


Rock Bottom, Low, Astronomy, Oncology


Wikipedia contributors. "Extreme points of Earth." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 30 Jun. 2015. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of nadir. Did you use nadir in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.