Monday, April 20, 2009

Pathos: suffering, disease, feeling, passion

Many good returns, fans of classical word origin, and welcome to my discussion of the Greek root word pathos—suffering, disease, feeling, passion {-path, patho-, -pathy}. In this article I will be discussing infrastructural derivatives for this root, as well as SAT prep words; next week I will continue with medical terminology as it pertains to pathology.  You may also want to check out this Greek root word path: "disease, feeling" podcast.
Let's commence with those English vocabulary words that form the infrastructure, or underlying framework, of our language, those words most commonly used that derive from:

Pathos—suffering, disease, feeling, passion {-path, patho-, -pathy}

To show sympathy towards a friend, one "feels with" them (note the Greek prefix sym-, progenitor of such SAT vocabulary words as symmetry, assymetry, symphonic, and symposium); hence, to be sympathetic to or sympathize with someone, one can either be in agreement with them, share similar feelings with them because of likeness of personality or ideologies, or be able to share the sorrowful or grief-stricken feelings of another, that is, commiserate with them (via the Latin root miser: wretched, miserable; when one is "miserable" or "wretched" with someone, one has the ability to feel their pain when not actually experiencing it concomitantly).

A psychopath, on the other hand, probably doesn't sympathize with anyone, except maybe him or herself, but rather has an etymologically "diseased mind," causing him or her to commit abhorrent crimes that a normally sane person would not even think of. The psychopathic person feels no remorse for the effects of what he has done, thereby showing no sense of sympathy, or empathy for that matter. Psychopathology is the study of these kinds of mental disorders, usually called psychoses (note that the Greek word psyche means mind, soul, spirit, source of key English words such as psychology, psychiatry, and psychosomatic).

Now on to SAT vocabulary prep words that contain the root word pathos.

The Greek word pathos itself gives rise to the exonym (an exonym is a word imported wholesale, or spelling/orthography intact, from one language to another) pathos, which is the ability of a person or an art form to elicit the feeling of pity or compassion towards the non-self. For instance, Cormac McCarthy's great Border trilogy elicits a great deal of pathos towards John Grady Cole, who loses not only both of the women he so desperately loves in tragic circumstances, but also forfeits his young life in a horrific and gruesome knife duel. We might, then, indeed, feel empathy towards this literary character if we too have experienced a great loss (but not that of our lives!) of a beloved; etymologically, to empathize with someone is to "feel within" them (em- is the Greek equivalent of our word "in"), that is, to viscerally and not only intellectually understand what another is feeling because we have experienced it in our own lives, a deeper recognition, as it were, than sympathy. Hence, an empathetic status is a mode of understanding another's pain through the vector of the self.
Something pathetic, on the other hand, is something inanely ridiculous and so awful that it evokes our sympathetic feelings towards it, our commiseration, and our heartfelt pity, perhaps either because it is simply miserably awful or inadequate, or perhaps because someone's plight is just so dire due, for example, to a natural disaster completely beyond her or his control. Rarely can one show apathy towards someone in pathetic circumstances, such as abject poverty or lean mendicancy; it is human to care about another's dire troubles, unless one is, of course, a closet psychopath; one can hardly be apathetic, or etymologically showing "no feeling," towards the victims of natural disasters, or of severe political repression (for a rousing first look at investigative journalism and the sympathy and/or empathy it can arouse towards those in dreadful straits, read the works of Isaac Babel, the founder of investigative journalism, as he discusses the aftereffects of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in the incunabulary days of the then nascent Soviet Union). In contradistinction to apathy is antipathy, that is, a powerful "feeling against" someone or something, that is, an aversion, dislike of, or opposition in feeling towards something. To be antipathetic is to show a strong feeling against something; probably after reading Babel one might have a strong antipathy towards the "improvements" that the Bolsheviks were supposed to have brought to St. Petersburg (Petrograd).
What does one have if one possesses a pathological condition? Excess feeling about something? In this case, the polysemous (many meanings thereof) true origin is "disease;" indeed, a pathological condition references a diseased state, such as of the mind when one is a pathological liar. A pathological book is one that deals with diseases; the medical term for a disease is a pathology (a wandering away, or deviation, from a normally healthy or sane state), which is also the study of the etiology, or origin, and causes and natures and symptomatology of disease.

My next post will return primarily to medical vocabulary in which I will be discussing the influence of the root pathos on medical terminology; GRE vocabulary that pertains to this Greek root word will form an auxiliary consideration.

Interested in word origin? In the power of Greek and Latin roots as the core of English vocabulary? In the root word pathos, and all the subsidiary root words discussed above?
All of the word roots mentioned in all articles are accessible via the etymology site, on which you may view the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today; a Greek and Latin roots poster is also available, which beautifully illustrates not only the sheer power of Greek and Latin roots as they form the very semantic and morphemic structure of the English language, but also contains a prolific number of GRE and SAT vocabulary words, including a vast host of medical vocabulary.  Or, if you're looking to learn vocabulary for the SAT or GRE verbal section, check out, where vocabulary is taught to you via an Adaptive Reinforcement Engine in a fun and engaging way which at the same time enhances your memory.