FW: semantic microshift: "compassion"

Seán Fitzpatrick grendel.jjf at VERIZON.NET
Fri Dec 15 05:04:21 UTC 2006

My first question would be where in a news report is there a place for the
news reader’s feelings.  

Has sympathy picked up the negative connotations of pity?  I haven’t noticed
it.  In the examples you give, the negativity comes not from sympathy but
from withholding sympathy.  One can still say an actor gave a sympathetic
portrayal, or a critic a sympathetic review, or a diplomat a sympathetic
description of the problems besetting poor Tazanubia without suggesting
condescension or insincerity.  


Empathy has certainly been devalued, being used to mean sympathy, while the
dictionaries still document that it once meant an “intellectual
identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or
attitudes of another”, in other words, something just this side of a


I think the co-anchor should have said, “I understand their intent, but”,
especially since he was expressing the conclusion of an analysis.  Maybe
this is just a variation of the (mush-) mind-set that replaces “I think”
with “I feel”.


Seán Fitzpatrick
Baghdad Lutetia Matriceque delendi sunt
 <http://www.logomachon.blogspot.com/> http://www.logomachon.blogspot.com/

-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan Lighter [mailto:wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM] 
Sent: Wednesday, 13 December, 2006 09:02
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 ?





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