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I have been trying to research and catalog words that describe phenomenon related to an attitude or state to things that involve neither superficially positive nor negative immediate impacts (or does not involve significant positive nor negative emotions of the agent that uses them), words that along the lines of JK Rowling's quote

"Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike"

I figure if there is a phrase or a single word that can describe the category that all these words belong to may help me on locating more of them efficiently.

The words subjectively reminds of the concept of nothingness or nihilism or despair, but words that describe nothingness and despair do not accurately capture the objective meaning because the words listed in the title is often used in an active (and often derogatory) form rather than a neutral state of something. They are also not as direct, intense, as clearly derogative and negative terms like despair, but of a more subtle nature (which in this case, the negative impact is not immediately apparent but takes time to become obvious).

As an example of usage, this umbrella term (or phrase) should be able to modify JK Rowling's quote as follows

"[The phrase to be seeked, that can encompass every (English) word that has the same nature as the words and phrases in the title ] often do much more damage than outright dislike"

EDIT: Interjection such as Whatever, Anyway are not preferred because the word or phrase is intended to be used in a non colloquial context

What is the umbrella terms for these often derogative, but subtle words?

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  • Perhaps "detachment" ?
    – Graffito
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 16:16
  • 1
    Well, there's always "Whatever!"
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 16:21
  • What’s the connection between stagnation and the other words?
    – Jacinto
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 17:17
  • dictionary.com/browse/stagnation >3. a failure to develop, progress, or advance: periods of economic stagnation followed by bursts of growth. >4. the state or quality of being or feeling sluggish and dull: Happily, they have been able to avoid stagnation in their ten-year marriage. Stagnation have two meanings that are negative. But I agree because the question seek for a subtle, rather than a direct impact, and that it is often associated with an agent, I have removed this term from the title hopefully itill make the question focus clearer
    – Secret
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 18:00

2 Answers 2

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Perhaps aloofness Dissociation from one's surroundings or worldly affairs fits the sense of the question but does not fill-in-the-blank in your sentence.

To say that someone is aloof is neutral by definition.

"[The phrase to be seeked, that can encompass every (English) word that has the same nature as the words and phrases in the title ] often do much more damage than outright dislike"

Your sample sentence becomes, "Aloofness often does more damage than outright dislike." which does not scan very well.

My second choice would be apathy 1. Lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference. 2. Lack of emotion or feeling; impassiveness.

Your sentence then becomes, "Apathy often does more damage than outright dislike." which seems to work as intended.

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"Neutral adjectives"?


Even in your header question, you're drifting between the neutral (indifference) and the negative (cold shoulder), so consistency is a challenge. I don't know that there's a single word, but the common theme is the neutrality as much as anything: neutral, impartial, unprejudiced, dispassionate, non-judgemental, unbiased, etc.

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  • Some words with multiple meanings are challenging to express. for example, dictionary definition have "indifference" meaning unaffected (which is a neutral use of the term), but there's another more negative meaning which is often used to refer to the context of an individual or group not concern about the wellbeing or the situation, in a sense similar to inaction
    – Secret
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 17:58
  • I find the entire exercise to be lacking any coherence.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 18:58

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