Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lackluster #2

Lackluster #2

In last week’s post we considered the words tedium, tedious, lackluster, feckless, snooze, & soporific. This week, as northern hemisphere teachers & students approach or reach that final tedious week of the school year, we will continue in that vein. 

Dawdle probably came to English in the 1650s in reference to a bird perceived as silly and foolish, the daw. Then again, dawdle may simply be a variant of daddle, to walk unsteadily. No matter its origins, many folks embrace dawdling during this time of the school year.

In 1794 the word otiose entered the English language. It came from the Latin word otiosus, meaning unoccupied, not busy, or having leisure. It appears to have no relationship at all to the word odious, also of Latin origin, but meaning offensive, unpleasant & hateful.

The phrase to twiddle one’s thumbs first appeared in English in 1846, though its precursor, twiddle, meaning to trifle, showed up as early as the 1540s. Twiddle’s origin is unknown.

In modern usage, dreary means dull, boring, or causing sadness or gloom, & though its original meaning may have been cause for sadness, it was far more dramatic. Dreary comes from the Old English word dreorig, which meant cruel, gory or bloodstained. Its first English usage occurred in Paradise Lost in 1667, & meant dripping blood. I’m guessing that students in their last class of the year & teachers attending that final faculty meeting might be able to make the connection.

Back in 1897 the word slacker entered the language, meaning one who shirks work. It appears to be related to the Old English word sleacornes, which meant laziness. Though the word was re-popularized in the 1990s, slackers have been around forever & for nearly 120 years we have had the word slacker to identify them.

Slackers, otiosity, dreariness, dawdling & thumb-twiddling might all inspire a feeling of world-weariness, melancholy, or pessimism. And, what a surprise, we have a word for that, too. The word weltschmerz arrived in English in 1863 from German, meaning world-pain or world-woe.  

So, good readers, when faced with slackers and thumb-twiddlers, or when finding yourself among them, how do you avoid a raging case of weltschmerz?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, & Wordnik, & Sloth – A Dictionary for the Lazy,


  1. Otiose and weltschmerz are both new to me. Aren't you coming into a temporary state of otiosity soon when you can enjoy a little thumb-twiddling? And weltschmerz...well...yeah, we have bit of that going around, don't we. I like the word slacker. It just sounds so much like its meaning.

  2. Hey Christine - I hadn't run into otiose either, though it inspired a conversation with Ellen about people who might be odiously otiose & others who might be otiosely odious. Thanks for coming by.

  3. Sleacornes is a new word for me. Love it that they had slackers back in the Middle Ages, too. I'm sure they did some thumb twiddling.

  4. Hi Anne,
    I imagine the slackers in medieval times were nobles, since a peasant slacker wouldn't have lasted very long at all.