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 This time around, election fever appears extremely subdued — partly because of the pandemic but also from an underlying apathy. New York Times, 28 May 2021 Some young Chinese have embraced sang—an attitude of sardonic apathy and nihilism. Yi-ling Liu, The New Yorker, 14 May 2021 In this climate of law enforcement apathy, someone like Gebert, then, could slip through the cracks. Hannah Gais, The New Republic, 18 May 2021 Local health officials cite factors including apathy and skepticism about the need for vaccines, remoteness from clinics and mistrust of authority in a predominantly conservative population. Jim Carlton, WSJ, 29 Apr. 2021 Her real purpose is to marry and raise babies, despite her apathy-then-terror of both. Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times, 29 Apr. 2021 But the apathy showed even before any votes were cast, with the few candidates filing for local offices. Steve Lord, chicagotribune.com, 10 Apr. 2021 But those who study what’s known as the bystander effect say the narrative of callous apathy is an outdated trope that dates to a New York Times account of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese. BostonGlobe.com, 3 Apr. 2021 As the quarter wore on the defensive apathy or ineffectiveness showed itself. Chris Hine, Star Tribune, 7 Apr. 2021

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

borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French apathie, borrowed from Latin apathīa, borrowed from Greek apatheîa, noun derivative of apathḗs "not suffering, without passion or feeling, impassive," from a- a- entry 2 + -pathēs, adjective derivative of páthos "experience, misfortune, emotion" — more at pathos

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Last Updated

10 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 20 Jun. 2021.

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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.

Other Words from apathy

apathetic \ ˌa-​pə-​ˈthe-​tik How to pronounce apathy (audio) \ adjective

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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