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

Among the media and the public, the water, health and security crises are met with studied apathy or perfunctory, sensationalist attention. Samar Halarnkar, Quartz India, "India’s battling one crisis after another, but parliament and media are obsessed with the irrelevant," 24 June 2019 The lack of desire from the top schools to cut costs and begin competing on price is partially due to the risk of signaling a lower value, and partially due to general apathy. Anne Michaud, WSJ, "Is an M.B.A. Still Valuable? Under the Right Circumstances, Say WSJ Readers," 14 June 2019 Apathy rules, and this apathy is sustained in part because social-media companies have chosen their targets carefully. David French, National Review, "Social-Media Censorship Is the Product of Culture and Commerce," 6 June 2019 There was a lot of disillusionment about the war at that point and there was definitely more apathy about the troops than Kieswetter appreciated. Michelle L. Quinn, Post-Tribune, "Flag Lady remembered for giving Northwest Indiana one of its most enduring monuments," 14 June 2019 The ultimate aim of scaling back our political attention is not apathy but the creation of autonomous space for social, spiritual, and aesthetic experiences. Christopher Beha, Harper's magazine, "Winning the Peace," 10 May 2019 That silence is often interpreted or manifested as apathy. Wade Davis, Good Housekeeping, "It's Time to Stop the Cycle of Shame, and Teach Boys How to Love Themselves," 30 Apr. 2019 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

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

6 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

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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