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

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web In the face of this apathy, Obama expanded DACA two years later while also instituting the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA). Michael Bobelian, Forbes, 25 Jan. 2022 But our apathy also seems related to a pandemic malaise—an inability or unwillingness to devote more cognitive and material resources to a problem that refuses to leave us alone. Dhruv Khullar, The New Yorker, 23 May 2022 With North Korean obstinance, Chinese apathy, and Russian uncooperativeness, North Korea policy becomes about keeping the allies together and not weakening the alliance. New York Times, 21 May 2022 This widespread apathy left the door wide open for misinformation and private interests. Joan Meiners, The Arizona Republic, 27 Apr. 2022 This, Skinner-Dorkenoo said, highlights perhaps one way of combating Covid apathy. NBC News, 1 Apr. 2022 This apathy could impact public health at a global scale. New York Times, 16 Dec. 2021 Opposition to these laws comes primarily from small municipalities who derive a significant percentage of their income from traffic fines, and from political apathy about changing laws currently on the books. Gabriel T. Rubin, WSJ, 16 Apr. 2021 This focus on procedural compliance betrays a moral apathy in the academic community. Yangyang Cheng, Wired, 24 Feb. 2022 See More

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.

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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apathogenic

apathy

apatite

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Last Updated

10 Jun 2022

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 27 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for apathy

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

More from Merriam-Webster on apathy

Nglish: Translation of apathy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of apathy for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about apathy

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