semantic microshift: "compassion"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Wed Dec 13 14:01:39 UTC 2006

An _F & F_ anchor was reporting that many American Muslims are shaving their beards, putting aside head scarves, etc., so as to avoid ethnic discrimination.  A co-anchor then said, "I have compassion for that, but wouldn't it be better [etc.]."

  This sounds very weird. "Compassion" is much too strong here. The "unmarked" word would be "sympathetic," but I believe that "sympathy" has attracted negative connotations of condescension and even insincerity, "empathy" being generally preferred when the feeling is the focus.

  And cf. the negative feel of common "sympathy" utterances: "I have no sympathy for that...." "You won't get any sympathy from me," "Just looking for sympathy," "A sympathy card should be enough."  I may have mentioned the WWII military saying, "If you're looking for sympathy, it's in the dictionary...."  "Tea and sympathy" sounds wimpy and inconsequential.

  "Compassion" often figures in definitions of "sympathy," but this instance underscoresa possibly widening semantic distinction.

  Or is it just niggly me ?


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