Printable Version
Pronunciation: lng-gêr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: 1. A melancholy lack of vigor and vitality, repressive lethargy, as from heat or humidity. 2. A somewhat woeful inertia, motionlessness, a mildly sad gravitation to stillness, quiet.

Notes: Today's word belongs to a family of words with a motley assortment of suffixes. One of the two possible adjectives is the perfectly normal languorous with a meaning directly related to the noun. Languid is an alternative that expresses less melancholy. A languid mood is one absent motion or motivation. A languorous one is additionally woeful. The verb is languish, which carries an even stronger sense of sadness; to languish in an isolated spot implies mild desperation at being trapped there with little or nothing to do.

In Play: Anything that dissuades us from activity produces languor: "Buck Shott's natural repugnance to physical labor was well suited for the languor that settled in over his Alabama farm in summer." Otherwise, this Good Word implies wistfulness and just the hint of regret: "William Arami has been foundering in a deep languor ever since Mary Dagai refused his proposal of matrimony." The languor of a cool, windless summer evening is familiar to all of us who live in the country.

Word History: While heat-induced languor may cause your tongue to hang out, today's word is unrelated to French langue "tongue, language", the origin of language. Languor comes from Latin languere "be weak, faint". This verb seems to be semantically related to the Proto-Indo-European root (s)leng- "weak, slack", source of English slack, in fact. The parentheses around the S indicate that it is a Fickle S, sometimes there, sometimes not. The most famous example of this S can be found in the English words cold and scald, which share the same origin. The [n] sound also got lost along the way to English, but then it doesn't show up in another Latin word from the same root missing both the S and the N: laxus (lag-s-us) "weak, slack" whence English lax.

Dr. Goodword,

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