apathy

noun

ap·​a·​thy ˈa-pə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio)
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.”

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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 There are only two reactions: apathy or inhibition. Nick Lichtenberg, Fortune Europe, 11 Feb. 2024 Contrasting with Sevigny’s cool apathy toward the city’s athleisure-wearers and dog owners, on Thursday David unleashed a fiery assault on Elmo—as in, the Muppet—live on The Today Show. Hannah Jackson, Vogue, 2 Feb. 2024 This is not a season that inspires anger or rage, just apathy, which is maybe the worst indictment of all. Dalton Ross, EW.com, 22 Dec. 2023 And while vitamin D is sometimes reported to help with brain fog, too much of it has also shown to cause confusion and apathy, among other issues. Carina Woudenberg, Discover Magazine, 23 Jan. 2024 And previous warnings that didn’t come to fruition can result in apathy. Bill Kearney, Sun Sentinel, 8 Jan. 2024 These two facts side by side—the urgent need to address climate change and the widespread apathy toward the issue in a critical election year—point to an important reality: efforts to tackle climate change face a democracy challenge. Justin Worland, TIME, 11 Jan. 2024 Although the armed forces need to recruit only a fraction of this population to fill its ranks, the widespread apathy to national service suggests a disconnect between society and the military. Juan Quiroz, Foreign Affairs, 5 Jan. 2024 Climate apathy is prevalent among young people, which is why Ms. Cambridge has set out to counter it at COP. Taylor Luck, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 Dec. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'apathy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of apathy was in 1594

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Dictionary Entries Near apathy

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

apathy

noun
ap·​a·​thy ˈap-ə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio)
: lack of feeling or of interest

Medical Definition

apathy

noun
ap·​a·​thy ˈap-ə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio)
plural apathies
: lack of feeling or emotion

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