Magazine
Latest Issue

Tom’s words

Escapades in etymology

By Tom Chatfield   March 2008

Empathy—understanding another’s feelings—is a quality frequently demanded of us today, from charity appeals to relationships. It’s a Greek term that entered English via German in the late 19th century, and literally means “feeling into,” from em and pathos, meaning “in” and “feeling.” Before empathy, the English word used to signal fellow-feeling was “sympathy,” which comes from the Greek sym and pathos, meaning “with” and “feeling,” first used in the 16th century.

The subtly different claims being made by these words reflect these periods. To be sympathetic is to feel “with” someone—a humanist updating of the more spiritually resonant 14th-century…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk

More From Prospect