Mary Meehan wonders about the difference between empathic and empathetic:
I was reading a book that discussed the importance of empathy. The author routinely used the adjective “empathic” to describe those possessing the quality of empathy. I have always heard and used the adjective “empathetic”, although upon looking it up it seems both words are valid.
Are there any rules or guidelines regarding the proper use of these two words?
Both empathic and empathetic derive from the noun empathy:
The power of projecting one’s personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation. –OED
Since both forms of the adjective are recognized by the OED and Merriam-Webster, speakers and writers are free to choose the form they prefer.
The older form is empathic (1909). The form empathetic derives from the more familiar pairing of sympathy and sympathetic. The earliest date for the use of empathetic given in the OED is 1932. It could be that scientific writers prefer the older term.
The word empathic makes me think of the word empath.
Neither the OED nor M-W has an entry for empath, but I know from a StarTrek episode that an “empath” is a being who can feel another’s pain–literally.
“The Empath” (1968) is excruciating to watch. Gem, the “empath” of the title, is an alien who combines feelings of empathy with the power to heal. When Kirk and McCoy are injured by torture, she is able to heal them with her touch. However, in healing them, she takes their injuries into herself, suffering horribly in the process.
Because of the StarTrek influence, I do see a difference between empathic and empathetic. I would use empathetic to describe the empathy an ordinary person feels. I’d use empathic to describe the feeling experienced by an empath.
Although neither the OED nor Merriam-Webster has an entry for empath,Answers.com Science Fiction Dictionary has. The word is illustrated with excerpts from the writings of J. T. McIntosh, H. Ellison, A. McCaffrey, M.Z. Bradley, S. Stewart, and M. Rosenblum.