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 The Central Election Commission posted updates through the day on voting numbers, which quashed fears of voter apathy. Andrew Carey, CNN, "Netanyahu projected to win Israeli election, but exit polls suggest bloc just short of majority," 2 Mar. 2020 Americans have learned how to mask their apathy toward Native people (some better than others), but the land acknowledgment seems a perfect encapsulation of these limitations. Nick Martin, The New Republic, "The Dissonance of a Land Acknowledgment at the Oscars," 10 Feb. 2020 Even at full strength Texas has been plagued by bouts of apathy, stagnation and a lack of meaningful in-game coaching adjustments. Nick Moyle, ExpressNews.com, "Texas’ NCAA hopes just about extinguished after lopsided loss to Iowa State," 15 Feb. 2020 But that doesn’t mean the administration is suddenly changing its deregulatory approach or losing its apathy regarding clean energy and climate change programs. Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, "Daily on Energy: Trump budget reflects sensitivity to environmental politics," 10 Feb. 2020 Organizers hope that his spectacular eagle’s-view footage will help jolt the world out of its climate-change apathy and toward swifter action to combat its effects. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Soaring eagle films crumbling Alpine glaciers as Earth warms," 2 Oct. 2019 The futures market is one, although there has been a marked withdrawal by speculative money of late, whiplashed by the unexpected and succumbing to a broader apathy toward energy in general. Washington Post, "Saudi Attacks Haven’t Spooked Oil Enough," 22 Sep. 2019 Bolsonaro has made his apparent apathy about the situation quite clear, engaging in a protracted spat with French President and G7 leader Emmanuel Macron over proposed international solutions to the crisis. Aj Willingham, CNN, "5 things to know for August 28: Jeffrey Epstein, immigration, Dorian, VA, Amazon," 28 Aug. 2019 Together, with its crop of references to aging rock artists, was designed to appeal to a certain crowd of baby boomers, to its detriment and their apathy. Aja Romano, Vox, "Gettin’ the Band Back Together is a giant musical comedy dad joke. To hate it is to hate joy.," 28 Aug. 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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Time Traveler for apathy

Time Traveler

The first known use of apathy was in 1594

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Last Updated

29 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 10 Apr. 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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