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

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 In the face of a toxic club culture and widespread public apathy, Matra Racing imploded. Rory Smith And Elian Peltier, New York Times, "The Sensational Rise and Expensive Fall of a Paris Superclub," 6 Mar. 2018 Fan apathy is at a low, attendance is down and tickets are steeply discounted on StubHub. Dan Gelston, The Seattle Times, "Flyers eye new approach in GM, unlike ‘unyielding’ Hextall," 27 Nov. 2018 The apathy at the poll is indicative of candidates employing old tactics that might briefly benefit them in the short term but ultimately discourage participation in elections and other forms of civic engagement across the board. Amy Chance, sacbee, "California Influencers: What did we learn from the June primary election, and why?," 11 June 2018 Through a spokeswoman, Gallego said in an email that he was concerned about the Trump administration's immigration policy and the president's apparent apathy toward the situation. Philip Athey, azcentral, "Did the federal government really lose 1,500 migrant children?," 12 June 2018 And although Putin's approval rating is soaring above 80 percent, the Kremlin is worried about voter apathy. Yuliya Talmazan, NBC News, "Russian election: Navalny rallies army of observers to counter Putin," 16 Mar. 2018 Directed by Mikael Burke, this romance follows Jesse, a black playwright whose boyfriend Neil, a white Black Lives Matter activist, calls him out for his political apathy, forcing the two to reckon with their identities. Kt Hawbaker, chicagotribune.com, "About Face Theatre sets 2018-19 season with two Chicago premieres and a world premiere," 10 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

21 Dec 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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