• doldrums •
Pronunciation: dol-drêmz • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, plural
Meaning: 1. A region of the ocean near the equator between the trade winds characterized by calmness or, at best, light winds; the calm weather characteristic of this region. 2. A slump or sluggishness in activity or a period of inactivity. 3. A state of mild depression or unhappiness.
Notes: Today's Good Word is used only in the plural. Though the Word History below shows that it originated as a singular noun, that form disappeared as the meaning of the word in the plural shifted. It has no derivational relatives and so is a true lexical orphan.
In Play: The origin of the more common meanings today (2 and 3 above) lies in its naval meaning, which is still alive: "When Millard's homemade sailboat hit the doldrums, he became quite muscular from the rowing it took to get him back home." In referring to people, it indicates a sustained bad mood or mild depression: "Don't ask Ethyl for a pay raise this week; she's been in the doldrums ever since she received her promotion without a raise."
Word History: Today's Good Word originated in the now obsolete singular word doldrum "dullard" from Old English dol "dull, dull-witted". The current form of the word was certainly helped by Middle English dold "dulled", the past participle of dullen "to dull", preserved today as the noun, dolt. This leaves us with the mystery of where the unusual suffix-like extension, -rum, came from. Someone suggested that it may have been created by analogy with tantrum, but that is only a guess, and a pretty wild one. (If this finds Colin Burt in the doldrums, we hope this word of thanks for suggesting today's Good Word brings him out of them.)