apathy

noun
ap·​a·​thy | \ ˈa-pə-thē How to pronounce apathy (audio) \

Essential Meaning of apathy

: the feeling of not having much emotion or interest : an apathetic state People have shown surprising apathy toward/about these important social problems. Many commentators are surprised by the apathy [=indifference] of the country's voters. See More Examplesvoter apathy a culture of apathy [=a culture in which people do not care about things] People have shown a surprising apathy toward/about these problems.Hide

Full 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 opposite — political apathy that comes from both parties agreeing on most issues or one party always winning — isn’t healthy for a democracy. Los Angeles Times, 15 Oct. 2021 Iraq's President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi urged Iraqis to vote amid widespread apathy and skepticism from many. BostonGlobe.com, 10 Oct. 2021 The outfit becomes as central to her character as her relentless apathy. Christian Allaire, Vogue, 5 Oct. 2021 While some efforts have been embraced, others have faced opposition or apathy. NBC News, 8 Sep. 2021 The problem, the poll found, was widespread Democratic apathy toward the election. Los Angeles Times, 10 Sep. 2021 This is the governor’s chief fear, a mixture of voter apathy and ignorance that under the rules of the recall could have California run by a politician with a tiny fraction of Newsom’s support. Washington Post, 4 Sep. 2021 Multiple officials point out that the decision to bring US troops home remains overwhelmingly popular, with one official pointing to the sustained domestic apathy for the war. Katie Bo Williams, CNN, 13 Aug. 2021 That is evidenced in the apathy of Democrats toward the Sept. 14 recall election. Los Angeles Times, 23 Aug. 2021

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

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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Dictionary Entries Near apathy

apathogenic

apathy

apatite

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Statistics for apathy

Last Updated

20 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Apathy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apathy. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

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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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