apathy

noun
ap·​a·​thy | \ ˈa-pə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio) \

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 Black leaders had contradictory, competing visions, which invited ambivalence, apathy, and defeatism across the board, black and white. Brian T. Allen, National Review, "To the 1619 Project: Use More Art, Less Fake History," 25 Jan. 2020 To King, now is not a time for apathy or complacency. Lauren Lee, CNN, "MLK's daughter weighs in on her father's dream in a polarized America," 20 Jan. 2020 Sadly, there was no shock or surprise this time; only apathy and indifference. Mike Bianchi, Pro Soccer USA, "Ho hum, Orlando City fires another coach," 8 Oct. 2019 But whereas Sborz’s transgressions were met with apathy, Jansen’s latest misstep was confronted with anger. Jack Harris, Los Angeles Times, "Kenley Jansen booed after another blown save in Dodgers’ loss: ‘I sucked’," 18 Sep. 2019 Making a trade like this would finally put the Suns on the NBA map of teams to watch, and would inject a full syringe of enthusiasm into a Phoenix Suns fan base that has been teetering on edge of full-blown apathy for some time now. Jeremy Cluff, azcentral, "Karl-Anthony Towns trade speculation: What would Suns have to give Timberwolves in a deal?," 6 Jan. 2020 As 2019 comes to a close, investor apathy in the sector is at a decade low, according to Tyler Hardt, founder of Pelican Bay Capital Management LLC. BostonGlobe.com, "It’s been a tough run for energy stocks.," 24 Dec. 2019 So the winners are likely to be small parties (Palmer will vote for the Brexit Party) and apathy. The Economist, "Walking the wall: my Brexit hike in northern England," 4 Dec. 2019 At first, Toller’s spiritual malaise manifests as apathy. David Sims, The Atlantic, "The Bracing, Grim Power of First Reformed," 18 May 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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Time Traveler for apathy

Time Traveler

The first known use of apathy was in 1594

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Last Updated

16 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for apathy

apathy

noun
How to pronounce apathy (audio)

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 How to pronounce apathy (audio) \

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 How to pronounce apathy (audio) \
plural apathies

Medical Definition of apathy

: lack of feeling or emotion

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