læs-ê-tyud • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. Lethargy, torpor, listlessness, a lack of energy, spirit, vitality. 2. Apathy, a lack of interest in things.
Notes: Although this Good Word is close to the meanings of lethargy, torpor, and listlessness, it is not the same. Lethargy is a drowsiness that interferes with alertness. Torpor is a deeper drowsiness, right on the edge of sleep or unconsciousness. Listlessness suggests more of a disinclination to move or be active rather than a change of mental state. Lassitude is more of a lack of motivation to act. Taken together, these words provide a nice little lexical toolkit for dividing inactivity into several more precise senses.
In Play: Hot weather often affects us in the direction of this Good Word: "The tropical heat brought out a lassitude in everyone, driving them inside to commune with the air conditioner for most of the day." You can, however, find other motivations behind lassitude: "The overbearing personality of the manager spread a lassitude over the shop that sapped all interest in the job." Molassitude would be the slowest sort of lassitude—if only it were a word!
Word History: The Good Word today comes from Old French which inherited it from Latin lassitudo, the noun from adjective lassus "weary". This word is based on a stem (las-) that goes back to Proto-Indo-European *le- "let go, slacken" plus a suffix -d, *led-, that also gave English let and late, not to mention German lassen "let". With the suffix -n, it pops up in Russian as len' "laziness", in Latvian as lens "slow", and Latin lenis "soft, gentle", which is also at the bottom of English lenient. (We are happy that Ann Walper, who lives somewhere in Tennessee, overcame any lassitude on her part to suggest this as a Good Word for us all.)
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