Let us Place “EMPATHY” Linguistically, Where it Belongs!

Matina Psyhogeos

The Psyhogeos Program



This article is an adapted synopsis of “Let’s Talk About Empathy”
and “What Happened To Empathy???? From originally a hateful word, to become the paragon sentiment????
Plus some additional comments on my research!

Both articles were published in the “Applied Languages & Linguistics” Journal ( 2018 & 2021) respectively, and other newspapers and social media.

The first, dealt in detail on the “true sense” of the word (Etymon/etymology,) and the latter based on my research to discover the culprit(s) of this tragic linguistic error!!!

The word “Empathy,” derives, according to the English dictionaries, from the Greek word “Εμπάθεια/Empatheia/ Empathia” ( It should have been Embathia” (the compounded sound, explained below.)
The Greek Definition of Empathia, which is a compound word of: Εν/εντός/ en/ inside & πάθος/passion /πάσχειν,to suffer! When the letter ν/n precedes π/p, changes to μ/m!
The combined consonants “mp” in Greek are pronounced as a strong (B) Thus Empatheia/embathia, while, Empathy is pronounced as two separate consonants EM-PATHY it should had been (EMBATHY- as in Embargo)
The definition of the Greek word Εμπάθεια/ Empatheia : having ill unfriendly feelings, unhealthy passion, animosity towards others, hatred, and it’s opposite of sympathy, compassion, caring, etc.. and Synonym to strong antipathy, apathy, heartlessness, uncaring, etc.
While, definition of Empathy : Passion, affection, compassion for others, friendly feelings, etc. Synonym: to sympathy, friendliness, compassion, etc. & Antonym to : antipathy, unfriendliness, enmity, hatred, etc.!
Exactly the opposite of the original true sense of the word of its origin.

From the aforementioned definitions it is clear to distinguish the disparity and erroneous misinterpretation of Empathy, to its original word. Now the difficult part was to find out: How, When, Where & by Whom? That linguistic injustice occurred?

I had to research thoroughly using various ( Greek & English )dictionaries, encyclopedias articles, & other sources of as early as the 18th c., to discover how that happened. My first thought was that the first lexicographer, when the word was translated and adopted to the English dictionaries, either was not fluent in Greek or by not emphasizing the powerful sound of the compounded two consonants (M&P, which is a very strong “B” in Greek, and ignoring it in English, pronouncing it, as separate letters (M -P) (this part might have some weight, )and also the importance of the meaning of Εν & πάθος (the combining words) /inside passion/feeling) could had been taken as a wonderful feeling, a heartwarming sentiment ( could also have contributed,)Of course the latter is not accurate in Greek, is not true in Greek , of course! Empatheia, is not at all a compassionate word, entirely the opposite, unfortunately, an inside feeling is not always pleasant, one can love powerfully, and end up being a fatal love, by killing that beloved one , either by jealousy or betrayal. And we have so many other negative inside feelings which are not beneficial to anyone .
Finding out who, however, was the one to use it first, as a compassionate sentiment, surprised me beyond my wildest expectations! So, here we go!

What Happened To Empathy ? From originally, a hateful word to become the paragon sentiment? What happened indeed ?
The unfortunate misinterpretation, I discovered, was not by the original lexicographer, although , he bears responsibility, by not correcting it later on, when it entered the dictionaries, as a linguist, should have known the correct definition! But the first time that the word appeared it was not in a linguistic dictionary , instead in a report by the German Librarian & philosopher , Frederich
Theodor Vischer, who used the German word Einuhlen (meaing: feel into/ in feeling) and compared it to Empathy (since the meaning of
Empathy/ inside feeling, was similar to Einuhlen, without examining the true meaning of two combing words en & pathos) & that he presented it in his report as exploration of idealism (for his work in architecture, in which he specialized, & not necessarily as an emotional, compassionate sentiments & expressions !)
\ Later on his son, Robert Vischer (1847-1933) Art Historian expanded Einuhlen and is credited with the word “Einfruhlung” (the 1st “u” is accented, but I was unable to use ) (meaning how we feel into, or inside feeling) for works of Art & Nature! So he continued with the same translation of “Empathy” since the meaning on en & passion is the same!
The following people who borrowed the new word used it indiscriminately (& not only for works of Art, Architecture & Nature, because the “word had a good feeling,” as the original user of the word, had stated!
We see, doubts for the accuracy of the definition of Empathy, existed even then, but no one paid attention and especially the person who inducted the word in the English dictionaries.

The first person to have directly used Empathy, instead of Einfluhung, seems to have been Rudolf Herman Lotze, German Philosopher & Logician to whom many sources credited the use of the word. Empathy, meaning: feeling good, and the word started to become popular:

Others started to use the word as Welheim Wunndt , Father of Experimental Psychology {1832-1920) used Empathy for the first time in terms of human relations & one of Wundt’s students GT Lipps, German Philosopher, Psychologist was enamored with Einfluhung, & used it in Psychology along with Empathy, to emphasize & explain “how we discover that other people have selves”! His Asterisk, is the most extensive analysis of Empathy, along with many examples (again} of visual Arts thus, bringing aesthetics to Psychology!

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) Neurologist & founder of Psychoanalysis. His history of Empathy again stems from Einfluhung & picks from the theory of Lipps’ Psychodynamics, of placing one’s self in another person!

Darwin (1809- 1809-1882} Physiologist & philosopher, appears to be reluctant to use Empathy & considered it “an internal injury: ( perhaps he had taken Ancient Greek,) & insisted that Sympathy is the appropriate word & the “foundation stone”

Researching through many linguistic dictionaries when the word appeared in the, without any luck, . Except in the Oxford Philosophy(Simon Blackburn) 1994 that states:
“Empathy: the state of being emotionally & cognitively “in touch” with another person, particularly, by understanding what their situation is like for them. Empathy may or not precede “Sympathy” The place of empathy, both in our understanding of other persons, in our ethical responses is much debated ! In this case, this lexicographer should have examined the word deeper & had insisted in the correct definition

I did include many examples (in the detailed article) & all stem from the word Einfluhung, which refers to good feelings about the Arts & Nature. I would give a few more how it became a buzz word in the last 20 years or so!
Since the first lexicographer, in thev1994, neglected (notwithstanding the fact he had objected the accuracy of its definition) to correct it, many dictionaries that followed continued with the definition of the inner feeling (that applied, as being a wonderful trait! Therefore, the people who started using it since, did not have any reason to question its accuracy, made it the ultimate virtue to have “ EMPATHY & be Empathetic!”To which the Creators of the incredible Greek linguistic thesaurus, must be turning in their graves, if they can hear it!!!!!

Barack Obama, American, (1961-) running for President said in one of his speeches “ The Country had a deficit in Empathy” & when became President he stated “will choose a Supreme Court Judge, that has Empathy” Of course, Pres. Obama used it eloquently, seeing that the word was one of the best a public servant can have ! So did the US Senate, when in (2009) started an extensive & ongoing debate, about the relationship of Empathy to Justice & The Supreme Court!
Now of course, everyone uses the word & its derivatives as if it was the best word to use! I wonder & my question is: “Would any one used it if knew that in reality is the most hateful word, one could use!!!

I implore all my colleagues, educators, writers, journalists & everyone who cares to express sincere sentiments, to help me get rid of the ugliest word in any dictionary! My sincere thanks to the lexicographers who have encouraged me that in the new editions the word will either be defined with its proper meaning or will be entirely expunged!

If anyone is interested to read the detailed aforementioned Articles, please find them on Academia.edu/Linkedin/Facebook or my website : The Psyhogeos Program !: