semantic microshift: "compassion"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 13 23:45:38 UTC 2006

If so, Jon, then I'm a niggler, too. :-)


On 12/13/06, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      semantic microshift: "compassion"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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 ?
>   JL
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