The difference between impassive and apathetic

As I mentioned when I wrote my fish post, sometimes when I check what search terms have brought people to this blog I find certain phrases coming up a lot. Often they’re useful directions  – people looking for a specific Francis Bacon painting which I wrote about, or trying to find reviews of the sadly-neglected A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia. But sometimes they’re things I haven’t quite answered myself, and I know how frustrating it is when Google won’t pony up the goods you need and you end up on some blog that’s making it harder to find your answers by clogging up the search results with posts that contain all the individual words of your query but nothing helpful.

“the difference between impassive and apathetic”

And variations thereon have shown up enough times that I feel honour-bound to address the question. Also, I like splitting hairs about the connotations of individual words and that’s how I managed to get a disproportionately high rank in language skills despite communicating like a monkey with a head injury most of the time.


  • impassive.


An impassive entity is one which isn’t swayed by external entreaties, and may appear to be unmoved emotionally. While this would be traditionally applied to people, it can be stretched without much effort to cover cliff faces, animals, and anything else that takes brief anthropomorphising well. The key to impassivity is that while the impassive entity may perfectly capable of stirring his or her self should they so wish, responding with passion and ire and activity, they are not demonstrating any in response to external pressures. They are, very much like our cliff face, stony and unmoved, perhaps constitutionally or perhaps merely because of the shitness of someone’s suit. The point is, your impassive fellow is not giving up any of their “feels” where you can see them; they have a good poker face. (There is the secondary definition of “impervious to suffering”, including the infliction of their own).

  • apathetic.

Now your apathetic entity, who is probably either a teenager or having a bad case of responding like one, is someone who just doesn’t care. They’re not walling up some potentially girthy emotional response behind self-control, they’re devoid of fucks to give. Not only are they unmotivated to feel, they’re unmotivated to act. They have no preference, and cannot be swayed by pathos (appeals to the emotions) because their emotions just don’t want to know. It’s less a case that they have a good poker face and more the case that they don’t give a tinker’s cuss if they win or lose: they’re not concealing anything, there is simply nothing to conceal. In fact, the apathetic entity is entirely likely to make no efforts to hide their absence of monkeys given. Apathethic is closer to indifferent than impassive is.

impassive means y’all don’t know how someone feels, apathy means y’all probably do know that they ain’t give a fuck. 

(For the none of you whom I’m sure actually care about this, the reason these two very similar terms co-exist in English is that they have their roots in different languages. Impassive, as I’m sure is obvious, derives from the Latin passivus, while apatheia passes through Latin but begins with Greek).


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