Writing for Business

Feb 18 2010   1:02PM GMT

Are you empathic or empathetic?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Bad customer service news spreads like wildfire on Twitter. The wise company deals with customer complaints in an __________ manner.
a. empathic
b. empathetic

Answer: Either. (Really.)


Emotions run high on this one and I’m not anticipating group hugs. People who prefer empathic tend to think that empathetic came about because people didn’t know the correct term and created a form based on the model of sympathetic and apathetic.

And then there’s pathetic. Which makes empathetic sound a bit like it means to feel pathetic along with someone (which I guess would be a comfort).

On the other hand, we don’t tend to refer to psychopathetic or sociopathetic behavior (although I can see a place for both words).

People who prefer empathetic think that empathic came about because people watched too much Star Trek.

The Wonderful Writing Skills (Un) Handbook campaigns vigorously for empathic — but is forced to admit that the OED allows both forms and doesn’t prefer one over the other.

… I’ve also seen a couple of entries confusing empathically with emphatically and saying that it meant to state something in strong terms. I’m feeling empathetic for those folks.

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