apathy

noun
ap·a·thy | \ˈa-pə-thē \

Definition of apathy 

1 : lack of feeling or emotion : impassiveness drug abuse leading to apathy and depression

2 : lack of interest or concern : indifference political apathy

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How Apathy Differs From Impassivity and Indifference

Apathy, impassivity, and indifference all denote a lack of responsiveness to something that might normally excite interest or emotion. Apathy suggests a puzzling or deplorable inertness or lack of passion, as in “the problem of continued voter apathy.” Impassivity stresses the absence of any external sign of emotion in action or facial expression, as in “teachers frustrated by the impassivity of their students.” Indifference connotes a lack of interest in or concern about something, as in “the company’s apparent indifference to the needs of its employees.”

The Greek Origins of Apathy

There's no reason to be uncaring about the origins of apathy—though there is a clue to the word's beginnings in this sentence. Apathy was borrowed into English in the late 16th century from Greek apatheia, which itself comes from the adjective apathēs, meaning "without feeling." Apathēs, in turn, was formed by combining the negating prefix a- with pathos, meaning "emotion." Incidentally, if you've guessed that pathos is the source of the identically spelled noun in English (meaning either "an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion" or "an emotion of sympathetic pity"), you are correct. Pathos also gave us such words as antipathy, empathy, sympathy, pathetic, and even the archaic word pathematic ("emotional").

Examples of apathy in a Sentence

That's the danger of a teeming cast of … characters: they get jumbled in the viewer's mind, and … apathy ensues. Novels can afford a rich banquet of personalities; it's what readers sign up for. But ratiocination isn't welcome in modern movies, which prefer visceral impact over intellect. — Richard Corliss, Time, 20 Oct. 2008 But short of such complete apathy, there are other neurological conditions in which the capacity for genuine emotion is compromised. One sees this in some forms of autism, in the "flat affect" of some schizophrenics.  … But here, as with Harry, music can often break through, if only in a limited way or for a brief time, and release seemingly normal emotions. — Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia, 2008 According to the polls, "the American people, as opposed to some of their leaders, seek no converts to their ideology." And they are not "cultural imperialists." Maybe not. But this reserve seems grounded less in humility (60 percent of Americans consider their culture "superior to others") than in apathy. — Robert Wright, New York Times Book Review, 14 May 2006 The result could well be further inequality of political information, with avid followers of politics becoming ever more knowledgeable while the rest of the public slips deeper into political apathy. — Martin P. Wattenberg, Atlantic, October 1998 People have shown surprising apathy toward these important social problems. People have shown a surprising apathy toward these problems.
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Recent Examples on the Web

Some worry voter apathy could breed a cycle of disenfranchisement in Wards 7 and 8, as the candidates turn to other parts of the city to build winning coalitions and, in turn, pay less attention to the issues Southeast voters care about. Peter Jamison, Washington Post, "Are D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods falling off the electoral map?," 29 June 2018 With President Vladimir Putin overwhelmingly expected to win another term, authorities are fighting voter apathy and seeking to encourage high turnout. Fox News, "The Latest: Russian election monitor fears vote day pressure," 17 Mar. 2018 His edges may be tougher than some of his country singing peers, but his bad boy apathy was synonymous with rudeness. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Best and worst of Summerfest Day 10: Kip Moore, Jonathan Davis of Korn, Phantogram & more," 7 July 2018 But in the past several trading sessions, that apathy has been replaced by what looks like mounting alarm about the prospect of a global race to erect trade barriers. Matt Phillips, New York Times, "Stock Markets Slip on Trade Policy Fears," 25 June 2018 Apostasy is different from apathy, but that is also growing among Muslims. The Economist, "The number of ex-Muslims in America is rising," 15 Mar. 2018 Just in time for midterm campaigning, the kids are off for the summer on a nationwide March for Our Lives bus tour to register young people to vote — and to address voter apathy. Fabiola Santiago, miamiherald, "Here’s the real ‘Hogg Effect’ coming to a city near you: Effective political action," 5 June 2018 Jay Cutler’s doing his apathy act on his wife’s reality show. Dave Hyde, Sun-Sentinel.com, "Hyde5: Here's five reasons to feel better about the Miami Dolphins in July," 13 July 2018 The episode was meant to be fun and Virginia-themed (?), but its bland jingoism fell way off the mark, especially considering the Bachelorette's general apathy. Rebecca Farley, refinery29.com, "The Bachelorette Wants To Have Its Cake & Be Political, Too," 3 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'apathy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of apathy

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for apathy

Greek apatheia, from apathēs without feeling, from a- + pathos emotion — more at pathos

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Statistics for apathy

Last Updated

12 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for apathy

The first known use of apathy was in 1594

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More Definitions for apathy

apathy

noun

English Language Learners Definition of apathy

: the feeling of not having much emotion or interest : an apathetic state

apathy

noun
ap·a·thy | \ˈa-pə-thē \

Kids Definition of apathy

: lack of feeling or of interest : indifference The trip was canceled because of student apathy.

apathy

noun
ap·a·thy | \ˈap-ə-thē \
plural apathies

Medical Definition of apathy 

: lack of feeling or emotion

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