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 Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. Bruce Bartlett, The New Republic, "Conservatives Might Want to Reconsider Their Love for Winston Churchill," 22 June 2020 The sector faces challenges holding it back which ranges from government apathy and bureaucracy to lack of supporting infrastructure and low appetite from investors, cautions Goldstuck. Uwagbale Edward-ekpu, Quartz Africa, "Scientists say satellite imagery and machine learning advances will boost African consumer data," 12 June 2020 Selectively choosing social apathy over established clinical guidelines. David Malebranche, STAT, "Racism: The contagion in health care we need to eradicate," 4 June 2020 Saeedi, now 22 years old, said that apathy was not a problem for Kabul’s younger generation. Dan Xin Huang, The New Republic, "Afghanistan May Soon Have Peace. And the Cost Is Democracy.," 29 Apr. 2020 Democrats fear that progressive apathy or distaste about Biden could cost him the presidential race. Tal Kopan, SFChronicle.com, "Barbara Lee, Ro Khanna and progressives endorse Joe Biden," 20 Apr. 2020 The apathy and inertia pervasive within China’s vast bureaucracy hampers both accurate reporting and adequate detection of Covid-19 cases. Yaqiu Wang, Quartz, "Falling for China’s fake Covid-19 news was a dangerous and preventable mistake," 30 Apr. 2020 Indeed, Gen Xers have meandered through life with sardonic apathy: Everything is cool, okay? Allison Winn Scotch, Glamour, "Bored Teens, Vulnerable Parents—How Coronavirus Is Squeezing Gen X," 27 Mar. 2020 The Sox’ belt-tightening following an 84-win dud of a season dulled enthusiasm and bred apathy. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, "Air of uncertainty hovers over Red Sox camp in Florida," 26 Feb. 2020

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

3 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 11 Jul. 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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