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

And on certain issues, particularly race, American voters’ baseline apathy tends to fade. Dylan Matthews, Vox, "The “do what you want” theory of politics," 18 July 2018 Polling station officials blamed the low turnout on a combination of tight security measures, voter apathy and irregularities linked to a new electronic voting system. Fox News, "The Latest: Iraqi cleric al-Sadr leads in early vote results," 13 May 2018 While there’s something to be said for underappreciated Windows gems like Paint 3D and even Mixed Reality Portal, their appeal died due to under-promotion, a lack of interest in virtual reality, and simple consumer apathy. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "Windows 10's April 2019 Update should be as straightforward as its name," 25 Jan. 2019 The special interests in power are counting on your apathy. Marie Claire, "Why Your Vote Is More Important This Year Than Ever Before," 16 Oct. 2018 Just a few years back, activists and organizers thought that their biggest barrier was public apathy. Harper's BAZAAR, "Signs For Hope," 16 Aug. 2018 And its symptoms—which can include anxiety, apathy, general discontent, loneliness, and sadness—can be brought on by a lack of sunlight as fall turns into winter and the days get shorter. Elizabeth Taufield, Vogue, "Seasonal Depression No More! Happy Lamps to Cure Your Blues," 8 Oct. 2018 President Vladimir Putin is expected to win a fourth term, amid widespread voter apathy. Jill Lawless, chicagotribune.com, "Amid spy row, UK accuses Russia of stockpiling a nerve agent," 18 Mar. 2018 Given the lack of real competition, authorities are struggling against voter apathy — and have put many of Russia’s nearly 111 million voters under intense pressure to cast ballots. BostonGlobe.com, "Russia votes but outcome is clear: 6 more years of Putin," 18 Mar. 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

11 May 2019

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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 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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