Printable Version
Pronunciation: list-lis Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Lacking energy or zest, lethargic, apathetic, sluggish.

Notes: This is an authentic English word, so its family is quite predictable: the adverb is listlessly and the noun, listlessness. Up to the 15th century, the noun was listlesshede, with a suffix that was cousin to German -heit, as in the borrowed words Fahrenheit and gesundheit.

In Play: Listlessness can indicate fatigue: "After a Saturday night of heavy partying, Shep sleeps late and spends Sundays in a rather listless and despondent state." It can also refer to anything that doesn't move or moves very slowly: "The listless afternoon air was hot and humid, undisturbed by even the slightest breeze."

Word History: Today's Good Word is a derivation comprising now archaic list "pleasure, joy" + less "without". Middle English liste evolved from Old English lystan "to please", which turned into both list "pleasure" and lust. List also archaically meant "to hear, listen", as in 'give a list to', apparently because of a confusion with hlysnan "to listen". Lystan, however, came to English via its Germanic ancestors from Proto-Indo-European las- "be eager, unruly", which also went into the making of Latin lascivus "playful, lustful", borrowed by English as lascivious. (Now, if we don't want the Good Word ship to list too much to one side, we should thank Joakim Larsson for suggesting today's curious Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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