Let’s Talk About Empathy

This is the article on” Empathy,” as I previously had indicated. It was published in December, 2018, by the Applied Languages & Linguistics Journal!  I was going to post the entire Journal, however, due to copyrights, I am unable to do so. Anyone who has the Journal could find it pg. 134) More information to follow at a later post! Thank you!  Matina Psyhogeos

Empathy/Εμπάθεια/Empathetic/Εμπαθής/ Synonyms/Antonyms

I can see many thinking, “What about Empathy?” Well, the word has been misinterpreted from the beginning, at the time it was adopted from the Greek Language! The word was given the  opposite definition of the actual meaning. According to English dictionaries, the word “Empathy” derives from the Greek Word “Embathia/ Εμπάθεια,” which is a compound word { en/εν /inside + passion/ πάθος.} When an n/ν precedes a p/π, the n/ν, changes to m/μ , therefore: empathy/εμπάθεια. The Greek word’s (Εμπάθεια/ Empatheia) definition: having ill feelings, unhealthy passion, animosity towards others, and it’s the opposite of sympathy and synonym to strong antipathy!!! Definition in English of Empathy: passion, affection for others, and it is a synonym to sympathy and antonym to antipathy!!!

I became familiar with the word Empathy/empathetic, when I first came to America, and had started teaching. While we had a meeting with the school committee, the president congratulated me for being a good teacher and added “your students like you because you are empathetic” I was startled and I said “What did I do?” He assured me that it was a compliment! I thought to myself, perhaps it does not derive from the Greek. I forgot about it because very seldom was the word used. In recent years, however, it has become a buzzword and many psychologists and therapists have developed programs teaching people “how to be empathetic & how to show empathy ”. I started then, researching to see where the word originated and I found dictionaries as early 1700’s & after , although I knew it, I confirmed the word, had a Greek origin. The original lexicographer, either did not know enough Greek to understand the correct definition, or was
careless and did not follow the ETYMON, thus, ETYMOLOGY, the “true sense of the word,” as the Ancient Greeks, who did not do anything superficially nor accidentally but with logic, reasoning and well-thought out rationality, created the magnificent, incomparable Greek Language!

I became more passionate about bringing to light the “true sense” of the word, and since it is difficult to accurately re-define it now (the way it has been defined, from time memorial) , I would like to see the word be expunged/deleted , from the vocabulary (the way it has been defined) and use instead, any of the following powerful words expressing truly a benevolent feeling : compassion; sympathy (which is not only for death, as many presume); sensitivity; friendly/loving/warm feelings; concern; tenderness; kindness, and I can go on and on! While Empathy is exactly the antonym of the aforementioned sentiments!

Doing the research for my Lexicon, I was astonished with the thoroughness of the lexicographers’ to select an incredible number of Greek vocabulary, and define it accurately! They were cases of misinterpretations and discrepancies, none, however, was so exactly the opposite, as “Empathy” In my “English Words Deriving From The Greek Language,” book, the correct definition of the word and other references are made.

I implore all educators, ESP. Classicists, Linguists, Authors, /Lexicographers, everyone who loves the “TRUE SENSE’ of words, to help me in my mission to achieve the aforementioned goal (i.e. expunging the word Empathy, as it has been defined, or redefining it) as many other colleagues and word-lovers are doing, See examples in the following two adapted articles. I am forever grateful to all!

When this article was first posted on my site, many educators/classicists, linguists, even bilingual speakers, privately messaged me expressing embarrassment for not recognizing the erroneous definition of the word. Thus, after given permission to use few of them, two more (adapted) articles follow a)“ A Sequel to Empathy” & b)“ Do Not Empathize But……….Sympathize”

“A Sequel To Empathy”
It is my great pleasure to present few comments on the subject:
Dennis (the classicist) wrote:

It is difficult for me to admit that I was ignorant of the wrong definition of Empathy. I have been a classicist for over thirty years, am regarded an authority in Ancient Greek, Latin & Ancient History, not having detected the incongruity of the definition between, Empatheia & Empathy, is beyond any logic & reasoning! A word so widely used and supposedly expressing the most humane traits and positive emotions, proven to be entirely the opposite in meaning and sentiment! I apologize for my ignorance and I promise, that no one in my presence, will be allowed to use empathy the wrong way again. In all my lectures, I will make a point to bring this word up for discussion, and then I will feel, that I did my part to teach the correct meaning! If we cannot change the dictionaries, which from day memorial gave the wrong definition, we could replace it with a more appropriate synonym to express goodwill feelings, and not feelings of animosity! Your post, Matina Psyhogeos, opened my eyes and motivated me to carefully examine words very carefully! Thank you!

(I will not continue with similar comments of many others, in order to have a chance to dwell with the third adaptation, to avoid repetition.

“Do Not Empathize……… But Sympathize”
The most beautiful, gratifying feeling overwhelmed me seeing the above caption in my email account. It was by my Linkedin colleague & follower, Dennis, whom many might remember, from “A Sequel to Empathy” !

Here’s what he wrote:

“Once again, I want to thank you for opening my eyes, and to add, that I was thrilled reading your reply to my comment, where you mentioned that before you die, your mission is, to have the words: “Empathy/Empathetic/Empathize,” eliminated from the vocabulary, (the way it has been defined) of as many, educated English speaking people, as possible. I know you will be pleased to hear that I have picked up your mission as well! I have become as passionate as you, if that is possible, to have “Empathy” expunged, as it was previously stated, from anyone’s vocabulary who truly cares about the language and the “true sense” of words! Thus, anyone who comes into my classroom, office or the students’ study rooms, is faced with the above sign, along with an explanation under it to study the word further, by going to the Lexicon, “ English Words Deriving From The Greek Language” Page 344!…….”

What can I say , Dennis said it all, I’ am appreciative beyond words, Dennis, that you picked up my mission and made it yours, even more appreciative for that, than advertising my book!!! I hope many others follow your example and a word wronged will be corrected!!!

I am going to include only one more incident, which was related to me by my friend Kathy: that a well – known newspaper had front page : Don’t Give, “ Empathy to your Kids…..Give them Sympathy”

When talking to my family, I mentioned about that incident. My grandson, Peter, who last year was telling me . “Not to be upset about empathy, it’s only a word” and I replied to him, “It is not just a simple word, when someone thinks that expresses a wonderful sentiment and kindness, in reality, expresses negative feelings and heartlessness!” He realized then, that as a linguist I had a right to be upset! When he heard about the newspaper’s headline ( without knowing that ,a year earlier, I had written to the editor of that newspaper, explaining the word, but never had received a reply and thought they had never seen my comment or had tossed it away, until, the headline appeared.) Peter added: “Yiayia, take the headline and use it in your presentations!” What a difference a year makes …..he’s 13 years old now!

Please help my efforts to eliminate that negative expression!!! Thank you!

References :
Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Third Edition, 1997)
G. Babinioti Γ. Μπαμπινιώτη (1998)
Analytical Greek Lexicon Harold K Moulton (Revised Edition, 1978)
Oxford American Thesaurus of Current English Christine A. Lindberb (1999) & others .