[Paleopsych] Hermenaut: An Idler's Glossary
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Sat Nov 19 01:17:50 UTC 2005
An Idler's Glossary
[This is quite an entertaining list, though it goes on too long. The
significance for my theme of deep culture change is that certain terms
here are relatively new. According to the OED, "nonchalant" dates from
1734 and "insouciant" from 1829. (I presume the underlying French
words do not go back much further than this and, as I think nearly
always the case, that the behavior did not go back much further than
the word coined to describe that behavior.)
[I'd like a new word, similar to nonchalant and insouciant, to
describe someone who takes leave from the world's struggles by being
too quickly agreeable with whoever comes along and tries to get him
active in a cause but actually keeps his distance. He plays at being a
kind of sophisticate by too readily agreeing with the analysis of
world's ills that he is presented with. So nonchalant and insouciant
aren't quite the words.
[We may be seeing a new phenomenon here, new enough to merit a new
word. Not entirely brand new, of course, but still distinct. I just
can't describe it very well.
[I asked at a conference session of the Association for Politics and
the Life Sciences if what brand new emotion (beyond those categorized
under the Big Five) any of the futurists were proposing, the idea
being that future men or future members of new species might have
richer emotional lives. No one had thought of this before.]
"Dawdler." "Layabout." "Shit-heel." "Loser." For as long as mankind
has had to work for a living, which is to say ever since the expulsion
of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, people who work have
disparaged those who prefer not to. This glossary, which closely
examines the etymology and history of over two hundred idler-specific
terms and phrases (whether pejorative, positive, or simply
descriptive), aims not merely to correct popular misconceptions about
idling, but to serve as a preliminary foundation for a new mode of
thinking about working and not-working. It is intended to be
specifically useful for journalists, who will never again have any
excuse for describing an indolent person as "languid," Epicurean
behavior as "dissipated," or an idler as a "slacker."--JG
absentminded: Losing oneself in thought, or in dreaming dreams--to the
point of being unaware of one's surroundings or actions--is a cerebral
pleasure available only to the unemployed idler. As such, the
condition of being absentminded is neither superior nor inferior to,
but merely different from and related to that Zen-like
engaged-yet-detached attentiveness, or "mindfulness," which
characterizes true idleness. See: DAYDREAMER, DISTRACTED, DREAMER,
FORGETFUL, IDLENESS, THOUGHTLESS, MIND-WANDERING.
acedia: To Aquinas, the melancholy condition of acedia [from the Greek
for "absence of care"] which afflicted solitary Christian monks and
hermits--causing them to apathetically shirk work and seek "undue
rest"--is a sin. Walter Benjamin noted that acedia had re-emerged,
among sophisticated urbanites in 19th century Paris, as ennui; and
Aldous Huxley described it as a "subtle and complicated vice,"
composed of boredom, sorrow, and despair at the futility of
everything. It seems that neither an ascetic contemplation of the
divine, nor an immersion in the pleasures of the flesh will suffice;
one must instead balance these modes of being with care. See:
APATHETIC, BORED, ENNUI, DETACHED, SPLEEN.
accidie: See: ACEDIA.
amble: To amble is to take a leisurely walk, but not in the highest
sense of the word "leisure." Until the 16th century, the word was used
to refer to a particular (leisurely) gait of a horse; and, like a
horse who walks slowly because it's exhausted, we who pride ourselves
on "ambling" might as well be ambulating. The difference is one of
pace, not mode. See: FREE TIME.
ambulate: Although often used to mean "walk at a leisurely pace"
(because, one imagines, of its similarity to the word "amble"), to
ambulate is simply to walk. See: AMBLE.
anabhogya-carya: In Hinduism, anabhogya-carya is any purposeless
activity which helps one become detached from the world of
goal-oriented action. See: DETACHED, FIDDLE AROUND, WAITING FOR GODOT.
apathetic: Because of his supine position and air of detachment, the
idler is too often accused--by "serious," "committed," and "active"
persons--of being apathetic. As used to mean "without feeling or
emotion," it would better be applied to those unfortunate souls who,
precisely because they haven't dropped out of society, have been (to
quote Philip K. Dick) "androidized." If, however, it's supposed to
mean "lacking interest or concern," we should note that the idler is
deeply concerned with, and interested in, following his own subjective
pathos, through self-potentiation. See: ACEDIA, BLASÉ, CARELESS,
COMPLACENT, DETACHED, ENNUI, INDIFFERENT, PASSIVE, SLACKNESS.
asleep at the switch: Why demonize those unfortunate souls who are
asleep at the switch--since every non-idle person is
asleep-while-awake? See: ABSENTMINDED, DAYDREAMER.
asleep at the wheel: Driving is like being asleep: On a long trip,
time and space seem to become a dream-like projection of your own
consciousness. That's why being asleep at the wheel can actually
provide great insight into the nature of reality. See: INDOLENT.
ataractic: The pseudo-medical term "ataraxia" [Greek for "calmness"]
refers to that class of drugs which tranquilizes; to be ataractic,
then, is to be tranquilized. However, although tranquillity is surely
a desirable state, tranquilization is not! See: INDOLENT.
avoider: Although avoidance is not a particularly brave way of
abandoning one's duties, the avoider ["one who withdraws, i.e., so as
to leave a place empty"] is not necessarily a coward. An obsolete, but
important, definition of "avoidance" is: The highly courageous act of
clearing away received truths, in order to face what Hegel called "the
abyss of nothingness"... whose proper name is contained in the term
itself: The Void. See: BALK, DETACHED, DIZZY, GIDDY, PASSIVE, QUIT.
balk: When an athlete abruptly fails to complete his motion, he is
penalized for having "balked"; when a beast of burden abruptly stops
short and refuses to proceed, it's whipped. As Foucault explains, we
must discipline those who experience moments of complete lucidity
("What the hell am I doing?") lest their madness come to seem sane.
Remember that the French use the same word to mean "hesitate" and
"balance": To balk [see DEBAUCHED for the word origin] habitually
might be pathological, but it might also be a Taoist-like state of
grace. See: AVOIDER, BARTLEBY, DO-NOTHING, INACTIVE, KICK BACK,
Bartleby: Melville's office drone who will neither work nor quit his
job is both an inspiration to would-be idlers and a great puzzle. He
isn't lazy, nor does he seem to resent or hate his employer (or want a
different job), nor does he prefer a life of sensual pleasure, nor is
he interested in making a spectacle of himself in order to help others
see the light. He just "prefers not to" do anything. He has lost faith
in the goodness of the world; he is lackadaisical, in the most tragic
sense of that word. This, it seems, is a form of passive
resistance--against God. See: ACEDIA, BALK, DETACHED, INDIFFERENT,
LACKADAISICAL, PASSIVE, QUITTER, SPLEEN.
beggar: "Beg" is one of those words which isn't derived from anything;
it has always meant exactly what it means. (This usually indicates a
word of great force.) Any person who won't work, and who lives by
asking complete strangers for aid, is either lazy, mentally ill, or a
saint. Don't assume you can tell the difference. See: BUM, CADGER,
benchwarmer: Hey, somebody's gotta do it. See: AVOIDER.
blasé: It's a sad commentary on the triumph of the middlebrow that an
indifference to pleasure or excitement, as a result of excessive
indulgence or enjoyment, is considered "sophisticated." Despite his
unconcern for those things that matter to most people, the idler is
always "hot," and never "cool." See: APATHETIC, CARELESS, ENNUI,
bon vivant: See: SYBARITE.
boondoggler: Given the extreme pointlessness of scouting, it seems
appropriate that the term "boondoggle," coined by an American
scoutmaster (as a name for the braided cord scouts wear as a
neckerchief slide), has come to mean a wasteful or impractical
activity. A boondoggler is not a true idler, but merely an "artful
dodger" who evades his responsibilities through trickery or deceit,
for purposes of graft. See: DODGER.
bootless: Must every non-useless, non-unprofitable activity involve
wearing boots? Quite the contrary, wouldn't you say? Let's start using
"slipshod" to mean any activity which is not an end in itself. See:
bored: Being bored [a term which appeared suddenly, out of nowhere,
among the smart set in the 1760s] is the condition--which Guy Debord
called the "worst enemy of revolutionary activity"--of being too
restless to concentrate, but too apathetic to bust a move.
Fortunately, unless one's boredom becomes magnified to a sort of
frustrated world-rejection, it's just a mood... and soon passes. Also
note that Lin Yutang says that "philosophy began with the sense of
boredom," since both involve dreaming wistfully of an ideal world.
See: ACEDIA, APATHETIC, ENNUI, SPLEEN.
bum: Like "queer" or "bitch," this term for a wandering mendicant has
long since been re-appropriated, as in the song, "Hallelujah, I'm a
Bum." As opposed to the guy who sits in the same spot every day asking
for a hand-out, the bum [from the German for "saunter"] roams freely
throughout the city, the country, the planet: He is king of the road.
See: BEGGAR, LOAF, SAUNTER.
cadger: Cadging, the ancient art of imposing upon the generosity of
others, is an essential skill for the would-be idler, since poverty is
the easiest way to obtain a great deal of free time. According to
Henry Miller, who calls it "mooching," when performed without
squeamishness or reservations, cadging is both exhilarating and
instructive. So long as a cadger [from the Scandinavian word for
"huckster"] is generous in turn (though not necessarily in kind), he
ought not to be considered a deadbeat, freeloader, or sponger. See:
capricious: To be governed by caprice [from the Latin for "hedgehog's
head"; think of spiky-haired idlers like Einstein and Sid Vicious] is
to give in to one's every fantastic whim, irresponsible vagary, or
irrational desire. The true idler knows better than to fill his waking
moments with turbulence and hurry but as long as one remains grounded
to some extent, capriciousness ought not to be discouraged. See:
DESULTORY, DISTRACTED, DIZZY, ECCENTRIC, FLIGHTY.
carefree: See: CARELESS.
careless: Idlers are often spontaneous, relaxed, and untroubled: In
this sense, careless is synonymous with "carefree," meaning free of
sadness. The other sense of the term--being negligent or derelict in
one's duties--may apply to the slacker, but an idler's duty is
poiesis, creation of himself and his world. In this, he is never
careless. See: DETACHED, DODGER, INSOUCIANT.
carpet knight: See: VOLUPTUARY.
castle builder: Building castles in Spain, or castles in the air, is
fine for schoolchildren, and of course it's unfair to describe every
"impracticable" project in this manner, but the idler ought not to
spend too much time among the clouds. See: DAYDREAMER.
catnap: See: NAP.
clock-watcher: This term, which was coined twenty-five years after the
invention of the time clock, ought not to be re-appropriated by
idlers. Like "slacker," it refers to someone who should, but won't,
quit his job (or drop out of school, etc.). See: KILL TIME.
coast: As a form of locomotion, meaning to glide, slide, skid, or
skate along without propulsive power, to coast [from the Latin for
"rib," which came to mean "a slope down which one slides"] is divine.
As a metaphor, meaning to proceed easily without special application
of effort or concern, coasting is a dangerous sport; sometimes an
idler must pedal, too. See: DISTRACTED.
complacent: Despite his apparent disinclination to "better" himself,
the idler can never be complacent [Latin for "pleased with
(oneself)"], as he is always seeking to create himself. See:
cop-out: See: AVOIDER.
couch potato: Although idlers have enjoyed lying supine on couches for
centuries, staring at the ceiling and thinking deep thoughts, that
activity has been (almost) spoiled by the invention of the TV remote.
Why? Not so much because channel-surfing is bad for you (although
channel-pottering is better, of course), but because one would not
want to be taken for a couch potato, whose unhappy existence is
devoted to distraction-without-end. See: SLACKER, SLUGGARD.
cunctation: See: BALK.
dally: See: DAWDLE.
dawdle: Paul Virilio, noting that Socrates was invariably late
(atopos) to every appointment, suggests that philosophy itself is born
of "idle (often pointless) curiosity, born of the disappearance of
physical effort once this becomes unnecessary." And let's not forget
Oscar Wilde's injunction that "punctuality is the thief of time."
Dawdle, then, by all means! See: FLÂNEUR.
daydreamer: This escapist activity is fine for slackers, but idlers
must resist it! As Simone Weil noted, although the imagination can be
a powerful tool for liberation, the daydreamer ["dream" is from an
Indo-European word meaning "deception"] may be tempted into "filling
up the void with compensatory illusions." On a less philosophical
level, the painter Delacroix insisted that the imagination "remained
impotent and sterile if it was not served by a resourceful skill which
could follow it in its restless and tyrannical whims." Don't daydream,
then: Dream, and follow your dreams, instead. See: ABSENTMINDED,
deadbeat: See: SPONGER.
debauched: The verb debauch, meaning to lead away from virtue or
excellence, to corrupt by sensuality or intemperance, or to seduce
from chastity, is of French origin (of course), and is derived from
the same root as the word "balk," or horizontal support beam. A
debauched person, then, to his detractors, seems to be lacking an
internal source of moral reinforcement: He is sagging, scattered, not
"upright." See: DISSIPATED, SYBARITE, SLOUCH.
derelict: See: CARELESS.
desert: See: QUIT.
desultory: The Latin root of desultory means "of a circus reader who
leaps from horse to horse"--which sounds wonderful in a way, but which
carries connotations of being trapped on a merry-go-round. Dr. Johnson
wrote of his friend "Sober" that "[his] art is, to fill the day with
petty business, to have always something in hand which may raise
curiosity, but not solicitude, and keep the mind in a state of action,
but not of labor." Steadfastness is not necessarily a virtue, and
changeability need not always be erratic, but this seems an exhausting
form of idleness! See: CAPRICIOUS, DISTRACTED, DRIFTER, FLÂNEUR,
detached: Religiously speaking, detachment is not so much a form of
aloofness or disengagement as it is a loving embrace of, and renewed
fascination with the world--from a position of critical, even ironic
distance. As counseled in The Bhagavad-Gita, the religiously detached
person renounces the fruits of his actions without renouncing action
itself. See: ACEDIA, APATHETIC, INDIFFERENT, NONCHALANT, WAITING FOR
devil-may-care: See: CARELESS.
dilatory: Dilatory, a synonym for "delaying," comes from the Latin
past participle of the word for "defer," or "submit," as in a
bureaucracy, where every question is referred to someone else,
endlessly. Not, then, to be used as a synonym for "dawdling," nor even
"procrastination." See: DAWDLE, PROCRASTINATOR.
dilly-dally: See: DAWDLE.
dissipated: The whole force of the term dissipated [from the Latin for
"spend or use up wastefully of foolishly"] lies in the Protestant idea
that one can somehow glorify God by accumulating capital. The idler
prefers that part of the Bible in which Jesus asks us to consider the
lilies, which toileth not, yet which are more beautiful than Solomon
in all his splendor. Remember, too, that the moral of the parable of
the "Prodigal Son" is that you aren't superior just because you keep
your nose to the grind-stone. See: SYBARITE.
dissolute: Around the 14th century, actions marked by indulgence in
things deemed vices began to be described as dissolute, meaning that
they dissolve, or disintegrate, the actor. This paranoia about
"keeping it together" is, according to some theorists, the source of
vices such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. See:
distracted: Although one must struggle against the centripetal forces
of traction (all those entities which would hold us back, keep us in
our place), the centrifugal forces of distraction (all those phenomena
which would shatter our hard-won state of lucid mindfulness) can be
equally as powerful. See: ABSENTMINDED, CAPRICIOUS, COAST, DESULTORY,
dizzy: It is every thinking person's duty to cultivate the voluptuous
panic of vertigo, by staring into that void in which all the forms and
norms of our daily lives are revealed to be meaningless. The problem
with dizziness is not, however (as Sartre noted), how to keep from
falling over the precipice, but how to keep from throwing ourselves
over; how to remain dizzy [an Old English word which originally meant
"foolish"] without becoming giddy, scatterbrained, fatally distracted,
stupid? See: AVOIDER, DISTRACTED, FLIGHTY, GIDDY.
do-nothing: In politics, a do-nothing is an anti-progressive
reactionary; in all other spheres, he is a saint. Oscar Wilde
described his life's work as the "art of doing nothing," and insisted
that for the person living in a society which worships action, "to do
nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world." See:
BARTLEBY, GOOD-FOR-NOTHING, IDLER, INACTIVE, PASSIVE, UKULELE IKE,
WAITING FOR GODOT.
dodger: A dodger shirks his duties and evades his responsibilities
neither for purposes of graft, nor out of fear, but simply out of a
overwhelming distaste for labor. Think of Henry Miller ditching his
career and family because he believed that "work... is an activity
reserved for the dullard." As Miller eventually discovered, though,
dodging is not enough: No matter how artful he may be, the dodger who
doesn't quit the job or situation he detests is nothing but a
goldbricking slacker; he's just killing time. See: BARTLEBY, KILL
TIME, SINECURIST, SKIVER, SLACKER, TRUANT.
dormant: Animals who lie dormant have the right idea: The only thing
better than a nap is a nap which lasts all winter. But, at the same
time, one doesn't want to be hebetudinous or torpid, does one? See:
dozev: See: NAP.
dreamer: Not to be confused with a pleasant, escapist chimera or
romance, a (waking) dream is an engaged vision of a better reality; as
such, it only seems impracticable or impossible to uptightniks and
punctiliocrats. As Henry Miller puts it: "The dreamer whose dreams are
non-utilitarian has no place in this world... In this world the poet
is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of
vision a criminal." See: DAYDREAMER.
drifter: As la dérive, drifting was an essential component of the
"revolution of everyday life" to those idlers par excellence, the
Situationists. In order to free the senses from the "tyranny of the
ordinary," Guy Debord & Co. would drop their usual motives for
movement and allow themselves to drift across the urban terrain,
driven hither and thither by the winds of desire. The drifter is not,
however, to be confused with the person who lives a life of lax
desultoriness. See: FLÂNEUR, SAUNTER.
drop out: See: QUIT.
drowsy: The etymological notion underlying drowsy seems to be
"heaviness," as in eyelids made heavy by dreary, drizzly weather. See:
dummy: In bridge, the dummy is that player whose hand is being played
by the declarer. Far from being useless to the other players, the
dummy is now free to mix a few drinks. See: IDLER WHEEL.
easy-going: See: CARELESS.
eccentric: Although often dismissed as being a "weirdo," by virtue of
having liberated himself from the stress-producing pressures of social
conformity, the eccentric [literally, "out of the center," deviating
from the norm] person is, according to British psychologist David
Weeks, actually happier and healthier than we so-called "normal"
types. See: CAPRICIOUS.
ennui: Boredom may come and go, but ennui [from the Latin word for
"hatred of life itself"] is a totalizing force which judges the
world... and finds it unspeakably tedious. To be ennuyé is to be
paralyzed by apathy and disgust, but simultaneously nerve-ridden by
over-stimulated sensations. To the over-sophisticated urbanite, each
tick of the clock can seem to say, as it did to Baudelaire: "I am
life, intolerable, implacable life!" See: ACEDIA, APATHETIC, BLASÉ,
BORED, LACKADAISICAL, LETHARGIC, SPLEEN.
Epicurean: The Greek philosopher Epicurus evolved a code of life and
behavior which stressed the avoidance of pain, but his name has since
been used as an adjective to describe those who actively seek pleasure
(particularly, for some reason, through eating). Not every idler is a
pleasure-seeker, and vice versa; in fact, many idlers are quite
ascetic. However, the history of idleness would be woefully incomplete
were great Epicurean idlers like Dr. Johnson, Oscar Wilde, and Lin
Yutang left out, hence the inclusion in this glossary of those words
used to describe pleasure-seekers. See: LUXURIOUS, SYBARITE, VOLUPTÉ.
estivate: Although one hears tales of starving artists and writers of
the past summering in a cottage by the sea, these days only children,
the ill, and the unemployed can afford to estivate [from the Latin for
"summer"]. Why is that? See: HIBERNATE, VACATION.
fainéant: When a Frenchman does nothing, it's somehow more fabulous
than when anyone else does nothing. That's just a fact. See:
fart around: One cannot literally fart around until one stops going to
work. This is an excellent reason for quitting your job. See: FIDDLE
fickle: See: DESULTORY.
fiddle around: Confucius's grandson Tsesse insisted that the
well-ordered life was a perfect balance of action and inaction, and
that the human spirit is happiest when we leave things half-done. Not
to be confused with frittering, or the debilitating condition of
desultoriness, to fiddle around (also known as "farting," "futzing,"
"footling," "pottering," "piddling," and "puttering" around)--is in
its very aimlessness the embodiment of the philosophical ideal of
leisure, and the Zen art of... well, anything. See: DESULTORY,
DRIFTER, IDLENESS, TINKER, WAITING FOR GODOT.
fill time: See: KILL TIME.
flâneur: "Idle man-about-town": O, how much is contained in that
definition! The flâneur practices a kind of refined street theater,
thumbing his nose at hurrying urban crowds by loitering
ostentatiously. For Baudelaire--who admired famous flâneurs like
Nerval, who is said to have walked a lobster around Paris on a pale
blue leash--the "perfect flâneur" is that urbanite who is neither
aloof from the crowd nor surrendered to it, but both at once; this
"kaleidoscopic" faculty allows him to perceive the subtle eruptions of
the infinite into the everyday. (Clearly, the flâneur does not suffer
from ennui, nor is he blasé.) See: DRIFTER, IDLER, INDOLENT, LOUNGE.
flighty: To be flighty means to be skittish, and easily routed. But it
also suggests capriciousness, which (as previously noted) is only a
problem when one isn't properly "grounded"--because desultoriness,
giddiness, and ennui may result. But after all, Nietzsche has written
that "He who seeth the abyss, but with eagle's eyes--he who with
eagle's talons graspeth the abyss: He hath courage." So... avoid being
feather-headed, but by all means: Take wing! See: DESULTORY, DIZZY,
flip-flop: Flip-flop, which used to mean "waffle," was transformed
into a synonym [derived from flip flops, a favorite footwear of
idlers] for "procrastinate"--by the spouse of the author of this
glossary. See: BOOTLESS, PROCRASTINATE, SLIPSHOD.
foot-dragger: See: DAWDLE.
footle: A euphemism for the physical act of love, to footle is
equivalent to "fucking around." Such a delightful pastime ought not to
be thought of as synonymous with "wasting time," then, but rather with
"fiddling around." See: FIDDLE AROUND.
forgetful: The daydreaming slacker is forgetful [from the German for
"losing one's grip"], in the sense of "a negligent failure to
remember," to be sure. The absentminded idler, on the other hand, from
time to time intentionally places over his own head what Nietzsche
calls "a firm dome of forgetfulness"--which allows him to forget both
past and future, in order to be able better to concentrate on the
present. See: ABSENTMINDED, DAYDREAMER, LETHARGIC.
forty winks: See: NAP.
freeloader: See: SPONGER.
free time: Free time, in the sense of "freedom to," is electrifying
and beautiful. Free time in the sense of "freedom from," however, is
merely restful and relaxing. The former is another way of saying
"leisure" or "idleness," that state of being in which actions are
performed for their own sake; the latter is another way of saying
"vacation," or "recess," which are simply those scheduled (and
mandated) periods during which work is suspended, so we androidized
human beings can recharge our batteries. The former, then, is true
freedom; the latter, slavery under the guise of freedom. See:
IDLENESS, LEISURELY, RECESS, RECUPERATE, RELAX, VACATION, WORK.
fritter: See: KILL TIME.
fuck around: See: FIDDLE AROUND, FOOTLE.
funker: How good it would be to re-appropriate the word funker [from
an obsolete Flemish word for "paralyzing fear"] which contains within
itself the holy monosyllable "funk"! But no, this glossary needs a
term which specifically refers to one who shrinks from his duties and
responsibilities out of fear, and this is the one. See: DODGER.
futz: A Yiddish term which literally means to "fart around." See: FART
AROUND, FIDDLE AROUND.
giddy: In his existential psychoanalysis of Baudelaire, Sartre
wrongfully accuses that great idler of "bending over his own freedom
and becoming giddy at the sight of the bottomless abyss." For those of
us who practice avoidance (as a via negativa to the blissful state of
idleness), giddiness in this sense is a very real and present danger:
Instead of being creatively "dizzy," the giddy person is just in a
tizzy. In the etymological sense of the word--it's German for
"possessed by God"--the term "enthusiastic" is preferred. See:
AVOIDER, DIZZY, FLIGHTY.
goldbricker: See: DODGER.
good-for-nothing: Ah, nothingness! In Buddhism, the realization of the
void is the sudden understanding that all things are intimately
interconnected--and that, as a result, the world is a million-fold
more fecund and wonderful than you'd ever imagined. The
good-for-nothing will always be with us; but perhaps some of us are
good for Nothing? See: DO-NOTHING, LOSER.
goof-off: See: DODGER.
head in the clouds: see: CASTLE BUILDER.
hebetudinous: This excellent, medical-sounding word for "lethargy," as
in "dullness," ought to be applied to slackers, not idlers. See:
hedonist: The Greek word for "pleasure" is derived from the word for
"sweetness," which is why we ought only to describe as "hedonistic"
that way of life which takes the pursuit of sweet pleasures as its
highest goal. (Lin Yutang, for example, writes that the most
significant inventions in the history of mankind are "smoking,
drinking, and tea.") Those who prefer bitter pleasures to sweet ones
must look elsewhere for an adjective. See: EPICUREAN.
hibernate: A term coined by Charles Darwin's grandfather (who was also
a naturalist), to hibernate [from the Latin for "winter"] means to
pass the winter in a state of quiescent sleep. See: DORMANT, ESTIVATE.
hit the sack: Also known as "sacking out," to hit the sack is a World
War II-era slang expression for going to sleep. As such, it carries
unpleasant connotations of
hobo: See: BUM.
holiday: See: VACATION.
idleness: "Idleness so called, which does not consist in doing
nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognized in the dogmatic
formularies of the ruling class, has as good a right to state its
position as industry itself," insisted a young Robert Louis Stevenson.
Idleness [from the Old English word for "useless," which came to mean
"lazy"] may involve lying in bed... but it can also involve a great
deal of concentrated effort. That's because idleness is not (unlike
slackness), the opposite of "work," but is instead a hard-won mode of
existence in which whatever one does is an act of creativity. See:
FREE TIME, IDLER, INDOLENT, LEISURELY, USELESSNESS, WAITING FOR GODOT.
idler: "There are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slowcoaches, but
a genuine idler is a rarity," writes idling expert Jerome K. Jerome.
"He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On
the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always
intensely busy." Despite the dictionary definition, then, although the
idler might not "work" in any recognizable fashion, he is neither
shiftless nor lazy. His energies, having been freed from the
merry-go-round of the working life, are channeled into the pursuit of
wisdom and pleasure. See: IDLENESS, OTIOSE.
idler wheel: By moving in a direction contrary to the motion of the
rest of the machine of which it is a part, the idler wheel performs
the vital function of transferring energy from one cog to another.
There's a lesson in here, somewhere, about the usefulness of the idler
to society; but it's a distasteful line of thought, don't you think?
idlesse: The only difference between idlesse and "idleness" is that
the former is French, and therefore incomparably more sophisticated.
inactive: Sartre writes that "all human activities are equivalent, on
principle doomed to failure. Thus it amounts to the same thing whether
one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations." But just try telling
that to your boss, or spouse. Or to the authorities. Guy Debord noted
that of all the offenses committed by the Situationists, the one
considered most threatening by the police was their "prodigious
inactivity." See: DO-NOTHING, INERT, SUPINE, UKULELE IKE.
inattentive: Slackers don't pay attention to their work, and one can
certainly understand why. But, as Simone Weil discovered, attention is
not a matter of holding one's breath and wrinkling one's brow, but
"suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty, and ready to be
penetrated by the object." This kind of attention, or mindfulness, is
only possible in the state of perfect idleness. See: ABSENTMINDED,
inconstant: see DESULTORY.
incurious: see APATHETIC, DETACHED.
indifferent: Not to be confused with apathy, indifference is a
difficult mode of existence in which one is simultaneously engaged
with and detached from the phenomenal word, as in Camus's longed-for
"passionate world of indifference." See: CARELESS, DETACHED,
indolent: For Keats, neither Love nor Ambition nor even Poesy contain
joy "so sweet as drowsy noons,/And evenings steep'd in honied
indolence." Although indolence [from the Latin for "feeling no pain"]
strongly resembles habitual laziness, or sluggishness, it's less a
physical aversion to activity or effort than it is a romantic
repudiation of what Keats calls "the voice of busy common-sense." To
the idler, nothing is so precious as what Bergson calls "duration":
time divorced from productive operations, and dedicated instead to
contemplation and reverie. See: FREE TIME, IDLENESS, USELESS, LANGUID,
LIMPSY, OTIOSE, UKULELE IKE.
inert: The inert [from the Latin for "idle"--in the sense of
"unskilled, and therefore unable to work"] mode of the idler can be
misleading. For, as Dr. Johnson writes, "the diligence of an Idler is
rapid and impetuous, as ponderous bodies forced into velocity move
with violence proportionate to their weight." See: DO-NOTHING,
insouciant: The mien of the person practicing engaged detachment, or
passionate indifference, should be neither serious nor smirking--for
these indicate a feeling of self-superiority which true ironic
detachment precludes. The light-hearted unconcern of the insouciant [a
French word derived from the Latin for "not agitated"] person ought
not to be confused with cynicism or superciliousness. See: CARELESS,
DETACHED, INDIFFERENT, NONCHALANT, WAITING FOR GODOT.
jib: To jib is to refuse to proceed further, as when a jib sail flaps
from side to side. One thinks, here, of Kierkegaard's description of
the disorienting flapping motion made by the contraction and expansion
of the ironist's self. See: BALK, VAGRANT.
karoshi: This Japanese term for "death from overwork" will surely
become as common in Western countries as "karaoki." Goldbricking is a
pretty good way to avoid karoshi; but quitting is better. See: WORK.
kef: In the Middle East, kef is a state not of lassitude, but
indolence. See: INDOLENT, TIRED.
kick back: Although to kick back has come to mean "relaxing," it
actually means to fight for your right to be idle; to kick against the
pricks who'd hold you back; to kick over the traces and kick out the
jams. See: BALK, LIBERTINE.
kill time: "Filling," "passing," "wasting" time: Before 1887, no one
ever even considered disrespecting time in this fashion. That's the
year the time clock was invented, after which time itself was
increasingly commodified, "duration"--Bergson's term for time which is
full and rich, and not divided artificially--began to be guarded
jealously by those in power, and wage slaves began to kill time. See:
FREE TIME, SLACKER, WORK.
knock about: See: BUM.
lackadaisical: Although often used as a synonym for "carefree" or
"insouciant," this term is derived from "lackaday," as in "alas, the
day." Proust-like, the lackadaisical person--crippled by nostalgia for
times past--lacks the will to get out of bed. See: BLASÉ, ENNUI,
laggard: Because life used to be nasty, brutish, and short, and one
had to keep up with the pack or risk being eaten by wild animals,
every language has its own way of contemptuously describing someone
who goes slowly, and falls behind. Laggard is how the Norwegians say
it. Those of us who live in "civilized" societies, however, often find
that the more we lag, the less likely we are to die young. See:
lallygag: See: LOLLYGAG.
languid: Languor is an enervated weakness or weariness of the body or
mind. The languid [from the Latin for "weak"] neurasthenic--who cannot
bear to experience any of the human passions, and who languishes so
attractively, has given a bad name to the indolent idler, who may be
perfectly fit and full of energy. (Note that Oscar Wilde's infamous
languidness was just a pose.) See: LISTLESS, SLUGGISH, SPLEEN, TIRED,
lassitude: Lassitude comes from the Latin word for "tired," which also
gives us "late"--as in "too tired to get there on time." See: TIRED.
laxity: See: SLACKNESS.
layabout: One might use layabout as a synonym for "slacker," as
opposed to "idler," except that the term was re-appropriated by Paul
Morand (author of the never-completed manual "For the Use of the New
Idle"), who liked to boast that he belonged to "the great secret
society of layabouts enjoying the scorn of a world which works too
hard." See: LOSER.
lazy: Lazy [from the German for "slack"] has largely replaced the
native English terms "slack" and "idle" as the main word for
expressing the concept "averse to work"... but of course the slacker
and the idler are averse to work for wholly different reasons. The
indolence of the dawdling idler makes him seem lazy, it's true... but
we must distinguish, with Aristotle, between laziness (aergia) on the
one hand, and
ative (skhole), on the other. The lazybones suffers from a deficiency
in will, and spirit; not so the idler. See: LANGUID, SLUGGISH, TIRED,
leisurely: Those of us who live in "advanced" capitalist societies
seem to possess a great deal of "leisure time," and we're obsessed
with "leisure activities"--but only because we're so exhausted. As
Sartre has the protagonist of Nausea observe, the seemingly leisurely
Sunday crowd at the seashore has "only one day in which to smooth out
their wrinkles, their crow's feet, the bitter lines made by a hard
week's work." As Aristotle notes, because this kind of leisure [from
the Latin for "being permitted"] is made necessary by work, although
it can produce a feeling of relief, it's still a form of work. Only
those activities which are desirable for their own sakes (e.g., the
hearing and making of music and poetry, conversation with friends,
contemplation), Aristotle insisted, can be described as "leisurely."
See: FREE TIME, IDLENESS, OTIOSE.
lentitudinous: See: DAWDLE.
lethargic: Whereas the ennuyé person is afflicted with an oppressive
sense of the too-muchness of existence, the lethargic [the River
Lethe, in Greek mythology, is the river of oblivion] person is
rendered stagnant by the dullness of it all: He is dead-while-alive.
See: ENNUI, LANGUID, SLUGGISH, TIRED, TORPID.
libertine: A libertine [from the Latin word for "free"] is a
free-thinker, especially in religious (which these days means
"cultural") matters, and struggles to free himself from the restraints
of all prevailing conventions. Because such free thought must be
suppressed, "libertine" has come to be a synonym for "leading a
dissolute life"; relatively few libertines, however, do. See: KICK
lick and a promise: This titillating way of saying "perfunctory
performance of a task" makes it seem somehow better than goldbricking,
or slacking off. But it probably isn't. See: DODGER, KILL TIME,
lie-abed: After becoming semi-paralyzed, French poet Joë Bousquet
decided that spending one's life in bed can be a great blessing: It
helped him realize, for example, that "the world is larger in me than
in the world." See: LOLL, RECUMBENT, SUPINE.
limpsy: "My illness unblocked me, it gave me the courage to be
myself," writes Nietzsche. "Am I a philosopher? Who cares?" To be
limpsy, then, is not the same as being languid, or lethargic,
because--like nihilism, for Nietzsche--it's the kind of illness "from
which you return newborn." See: INDOLENT, UKULELE IKE.
listless: "List," in this context, is Old English for "lust." One must
be depressed, indeed, to get to this state. See: LANGUID, TORPID.
loaf: The word "loafer" comes from the German word for "land-runner,"
i.e., "one who wanders around the countryside." Loaf, as a verb, is a
back-formation from "loafer," and ought to be used to described
someone who travels around aimlessly. See: BUM, SAUNTER, SCAMP.
loiter: See: DAWDLE.
loll: Lin Yutang suggests that we can achieve "the highest wisdom of
living" by alternating between the "absolutely erect working posture"
and "the posture of stretching ourselves on a sofa." See: LOLLYGAG,
RECUMBENT, PUT ONE'S FEET UP, SUPINE.
lollop: See: LOLLYGAG
lollygag: In the 14th and 15th centuries, the so-called "Lollards"--a
pejorative meaning something like "traveling mutterers"--traveled
about England preaching that human nature is not sinful but perfect,
and that because the world is still the Garden of Eden (i.e. it's not
"fallen"), no one should work. The Calvinists decided that this all
too attractive religious heresy was a sin... which is why to loll and
to lollygag have come to mean "act or move in a lax, lazy manner."
Really, they should be considered synonyms for "idleness." See:
IDLENESS, LOLL, SLOTHFUL.
loser: The true loser is someone who is inactive only by default,
i.e., because he's failed in his bid to get ahead in society.
Bousquet, who wrote that "My life is externally the life of a reject,
and I wouldn't want it any other way," is an excellent example of the
"beautiful loser," that highly evolved species whose members are
doomed to failure, but who embrace their fate with joy. See:
lotus-eater: Was there really once a society of people--the Lotophagi,
who lived on the north coast of Africa, according to Homer--who spent
every day lost in the dreamy indolence produced by eating the lotus
blossom? Although recreational drugs are a lot of fun, it's preferable
that the idler seek paradise itself, and not what Baudelaire called
the "artificial paradises" of opium and hashish. See: INDOLENT.
lounge: To lounge [a Middle English pejorative for "idle fellow"] is
to engage in the most spectacular form of indolence as yet known to
us. Unlike the flâneur, who loiters in the public square, the
lounger--not to be confused with "lounge lizard," who merely poses as
a lounger--prefers to outwit ennui in the cool, dim depths of a
red-velvet-swathed bar (a.k.a. a "lounge"). Thanks to the recent
cocktail music revival, this much-neglected term has made an
astonishing comeback. See: FLÂNEUR, INDOLENT, INSOUCIANT.
lumpish: See: SLUGGISH.
luxurious: Originally a pejorative term denoting sinful
self-indulgence, luxury [from the Latin for "excess"] has only in the
past couple of hundred years come to acquire positive connotations of
costliness and comfort. The idea that there's a "necessary" amount of
pleasure and comfort beyond which one ought not to go is, of course,
old-fashioned and absurd. So to describe a lecherous (or just
sensuous) person as "luxurious" is equally absurd. That said, there's
a strong school of thought among idlers--Lin Yutang, for example--that
moderation and balance in all things is the best route to true
happiness. See: SYBARITE, VOLUPTUARY.
malingerer: If one must dodge (instead of quit) one's duties or work,
feigning physical incapacity is always a good strategy. See: DODGER,
meander: The Maeander River, which flows through Turkey into the
Aegean, was famous in ancient times for its winding course--which is
how its name became a synonym for wandering aimlessly or casually,
without urgent destination. See: SAUNTER.
Micawberish: Is anyone's heart so hard that it doesn't go out to
Micawber, the secret hero of David Copperfield, who lives in
optimistic expectation of better fortune--but won't lift a finger to
make it come any sooner? See: LOSER.
mind-wandering: Aquinas believed that mind-wandering was a "daughter
sin" of acedia. But just as the melancholy concomitant with acedia can
give one insight, so too can mind-wandering expand our horizons. It's
a lot less project-oriented than "brainstorming," too. See:
moocher: See: CADGER.
mosey: See: AMBLE.
nap: "A beautiful nap this afternoon that put velvet between my
vertebrae," writes Henry Miller. "Gestated enough ideas to last me
three days." Not to be confused with being asleep at the switch or the
wheel, to sleep lightly and briefly during the day, when everyone else
is busy at work, is the kind of pleasure even the most ascetic of
idlers can endorse whole-heartedly. See: TIRED.
negligent: See: CARELESS, FORGETFUL, INATTENTIVE.
no-account: See: GOOD-FOR-NOTHING.
nonchalant: Etymologically, nonchalant comes from the French
expression for "not hot under the collar." This is not the same thing,
however, as being "cool," if by that term you mean blasé,
sophisticated indifference. Nonchalance is instead a stylish form of
engaged detachment. See: DETACHED, INDIFFERENT, INSOUCIANT.
oblivious: see DAYDREAMER, INATTENTIVE.
Oblomov: Oblomov, the lethargic protagonist of Goncharov's novel of
that title, is such a well-realized and sympathetic character that his
name has become synonymous with "beautiful loser." But it's clear that
Oblomov's indolence is not principled; instead, he's just a schlimazel
who's idle only because he's too lazy to be as successful as he'd like
to be. See: LAZY, LETHARGIC, SLUGGARD.
oscitant: Oscitant, from the Latin for "yawn," is a listless,
enervated state. See: LANGUID, TIRED, TORPID.
otiose: One of the most important pieces of information that a
glossary of idle terms can impart is this: The Latin word for
"business" is negotium (as in "negotiate")--which means "not idling."
Get it? Otium, or leisure, was once considered the true goal of life;
and business was just what you did when you weren't idling. So how did
"otiosity" come to mean "producing nothing of value?" See: IDLENESS,
pass time: See: KILL TIME.
passive: There's a big difference between being passive [from the
Latin for "acted upon"] in the sense of "not taking an active part" or
being "non-cooperative" on the one hand, and in the sense of "lacking
in energy or will" on the other. As we know from the phenomenon of
"passive resistance," sometimes not acting can require a whole lot
more energy and will than acting can. See: BARTLEBY, DO-NOTHING, SIT
perambulate: Although often used as a synonym for "saunter," to
perambulate is simply to ambulate in a circle. What's the point of
that? See: AMBULATE.
piddle: See: FIDDLE AROUND.
piss-puddle: Piss-puddle is a pejorative verb coined by a friend of
the author of this glossary to describe her boyfriend's tendency to
collapse on the couch when he was supposed to be making himself
useful. See: PROCRASTINATE, UKULELE IKE.
playboy: Playboy, a turn-of-the-century descriptor for "a man who
lives a life devoted to the pursuit of pleasure" has come to mean,
thanks to the magazine of that name, "a man who lives a life devoted
to the pursuit of women with enormous breasts." See: SYBARITE.
pococurante: The Italians, it's said, work hard... but are under no
illusion that work is the most important thing in life. That's why we
should all start using the Italian word pococurante, which means
nonchalant, a lot more. See: INDIFFERENT, INSOUCIANT, NONCHALANT.
poky: See: DAWDLE.
potter: To potter is to move or act aimlessly or idly; it comes from
the Old English word for "poke," as in "poke around." See: FIDDLE
procrastinator: Procrastination in artists, muses the great literary
critic Cyril Connolly, "is always a symptom of an acute inner
conflict... all true artistic indolence is deeply neurotic; a pain not
a pleasure." In the procrastinator [from the Latin for "put forward
until tomorrow"] that lamentable failure of body and will which is
languor, or torpor, becomes inextricably imbricated with artistic
perfectionism. It can be impossible, however--for anyone, including
the procrastinator--to tell these apart. See: LANGUID, LAZY, TORPID.
(not) pull one's weight: See: DODGER.
put off: See: PROCRASTINATE.
put one's feet up: "How many hostesses have feared and trembled for an
evening party in which the guests are not willing to loosen up,"
writes Lin Yutang. "I have always helped... by putting a leg up on top
of a tea table or whatever happened to be the nearest object, and in
that way forced everybody else to throw away the cloak of false
dignity." See: LOLL.
putter: See: POTTER.
quiescent: To be quiescent [from the Latin for "become quiet"] is to
be momentarily inactive, tranquilly at rest; it's not the same as
being sluggish or torpid. See: INERT, SLOTHFUL, UKULELE IKE.
quitter: "The trumpet is my enemy," said Herb Alpert in 1969, when he
disbanded Tijuana Brass and quit performing. The quitter [from the
Latin for "free"--as in "set yourself free"] ought not to be
disparaged, for as Evan Harris, author of The Quit, argues, quitting
is a creative art, an end in itself, a life-affirming "Yes!" See:
rake: Rake [from "rakehell"] is a 17th-century slang word for
"dissolute person." See: DISSOLUTE.
ramble: To ramble [Middle English for "roam"] means to wander for
pleasure, without a fixed destination. See: SAUNTER.
recalcitrant: Etymologically, to be recalcitrant means to "kick back."
Recalcitrance, then, is more than stubborn disobedience; it's a
revolutionary (or at least rebellious) act of revenge. See: KICK BACK.
recess: During a recess [from the Latin for "recede"],
business-as-usual doesn't actually stop. Instead, it just goes into
recharging-the-batteries mode. See: VACATION.
recumbent: From the same Latin root as "incubate," which originally
meant to literally "lie down on," when one is recumbent, ideas always
start hatching. See: LIE-ABED, LOLL, SUPINE.
recuperate: Nietzsche writes that "More and more, work enlists all
good conscience on its side; the desire for joy already calls itself a
'need to recuperate' and is beginning to be ashamed of itself."
Etymologically, to recuperate is to "take back" what was stolen from
you; why not stop being a victim of robbery, instead? See: FREE TIME,
LEISURELY, RELAX, VACATION.
relax: To relax [from the Latin for "loose," which also gives us
"languish" and "slack"] means to recuperate, i.e., in order that one
can return to work with new energy.
As comedian Keith Allen says, "'relaxation' is a load of cack, it's
just shit... I'm that relaxed all the year round, you understand?"
Idlers who've quit their jobs tend to find that they have energy to
spare. See: FREE TIME, LEISURELY, RECUPERATE, VACATION.
repose: See: RECUMBENT.
rest: As with tiredness, and sleep, rest is one of those physical
necessities which cannot be judged in and of itself. But there are
different modes of resting: for example, relaxation is not the same
thing as lolling. See: LOLL, RELAX, TIRED.
roué: This synonym for "rake" is French for "broken on the wheel"; the
dissolute person was once thought to deserve this punishment. Such is
the vengefulness of the jealous working person! See: RAKE.
sandman: A candy-colored clown who tiptoes to our rooms every night.
saunter: Thoreau, who wrote magnificently about the pleasures of
walking aimlessly through nature, insisted that saunterers were, by
virtue of their mode of ambulating, not just going toward but already
in the Saint Terre. A lovely idea, and not far wrong, etymologically.
Saunter actually comes from the Middle English word for "walking about
musingly"; it is derived from the word "saint," as holy men were
thought to spend much of their time in this manner. See: BUM, DRIFTER,
FLÂNEUR, LOAF, SCAMP, SCROUNGER.
scamp: Like "bum" and "loaf," this obsolete verb meaning "to roam
about idly" has come to be a pejorative descriptor for any footloose
and fancy-free person. Lin Yutang, resisting the militarization of his
homeland, insisted that the scamp--not the soldier--is the highest
form of humanity. Whereas the latter surrenders his individuality and
obeys orders, Yutang points out, the former remains curious, dreamy,
humorous, wayward, incalculable, and unpredictable. See: BUM, LOAF,
scatterbrained: See: DIZZY, GIDDY.
schlimazel: A schlimazel [an Anglicization of the Yiddish compound
"shemozzle"--"bad" and "luck"] is a pathetic failure, someone who
wants to succeed but cannot. See: OBLOMOV.
schnorrer: See: SPONGER.
scrimshanker: See: DODGER.
scrounger: From an Old English word meaning "wander about idly," a
scrounger is one who gets only what he needs, and only when he needs
it, by foraging, scavenging, or cadging. Although it's become
synonymous with sponging, scrounging is actually a noble art which
combines--as the word itself seems to do--sauntering, lounging, and
creativity. See: BEGGAR, BUM, CADGER, SAUNTER, SCAMP.
shamble: Walking awkwardly, with dragging feet, is not to be confused
with "foot-dragging" in the sense of dawdling. See: DAWDLE.
shilly-shally: See: DAWDLE.
shiftless: If shiftless ["shift" is a 16th century English word for
"resourcefulness"] is taken to mean "lacking in resourcefulness," then
the shiftless person is precisely the opposite of a scrounger.
However, as a term sometimes used to mean "lacking in ambition," it
ought to be reclaimed by idlers. See: UNAMBITIOUS.
shirker: See: DODGER.
shit-heel: Henry Miller writes, of young people who "know enough not
to want to do a stroke of honest work," that "they prefer to be
shit-heels, if they have to be. Fine! I salute them." See: CADGER.
siesta: This highly civilized practice of catching forty winks during
the hottest part of the day is found only in the most advanced
civilizations. See: NAP.
sinecurist: For as long as bureaucracies have existed, there have been
people eager to obtain offices and positions that require little or no
work. However, although a sinecure is preferable (for obvious reasons)
to a job that's demanding, a sinecurist is a bird in a gilded cage: He
may become too complacent to fly, even if the cage door is left open.
See: DODGER, SLACKER.
sit back: "When things are going to rack and ruin," writes Henry
Miller, "the most purposeful act may be to sit still." See:
DO-NOTHING, INACTION, PASSIVE.
skiver: "Never sell yourself, just give," says Keith Allen. To skive
[which came into English via those World War I British servicemen who
liked the French word for "dodge" (esquiver)] means to fail to do your
duty in a glorious, larger-than-life, instructive manner. See: DODGER,
slackness: Not to be confused with Lin Yutang's notion of "The Noble
Art of Leaving Things Undone," slackness [from the same Latin word for
"loose" which gives us "languish" and "relaxation"] refers to a
blameworthy lack of due or necessary diligence, precision, or care.
It's one thing not to care about work which is forced upon you, but an
apathetic response to the prospect of any kind of sustained effort
whatsoever is something else entirely. Despite the Church of the
Subgenius's attempt to appropriate this word for idlers and skivers,
then, "slack" ought to go on being used as a synonym for "lazy." See:
APATHETIC, BLASÉ, COMPLACENT, LAZY, SLACKER.
slacker: Richard Linklater's movie Slacker may reference R.L.
Stevenson's "Apology for Idlers," but Linklater himself admitted that
it was a "kiss-off to a certain mindset--wallowing in negativity and
being very alienated." Dr. Johnson, that great supporter of idleness,
frowned upon those so-called idlers who "boast that they do nothing,
and thank their stars that they have nothing to do," and who "exist in
a state of unruffled stupidity, forgetting and forgotten; who have
long ceased to live." Unlike the idler, in whom work and leisure have
combined to become something fine, the slacker remains unhappily
trapped in that dichotomy. See: DODGER, LEISURELY, FREE TIME, KILL
TIME, SLACKNESS, VACATION.
sleepy: The periodic suspension of consciousness (during which the
powers of the body are restored) that we call "sleep" cannot be
criticized on moral grounds, since it's an unavoidable natural
phenomenon, like weather. It can, however, be criticized
aesthetically, since it can be accomplished in so many different
fashions, and because some people do it with so much more panache than
others. See: NAP, TIRED.
slipshod: Yet another curious conflation of footwear with modes of
existence. How did "wearing loose shoes" come to mean "negligent"? Was
Bruce Lee, in his kung fu slippers, negligent? Of course not! In honor
of Lee's philosophy, then, we should use slipshod to refer to a person
who acts without attachment to the fruits of his actions. See:
slothful: In Madness and Civilization, Foucault writes that the
practice of sentencing prisoners and madmen to forced labor arose
because of the (Calvinist) idea that "God helps those who help
themselves." Just as homosexuality was once considered a perverse
variant of the sin of willfulness, so too was sloth [from the same
German word which gives us "slow"] once considered an absurd--because,
so the thinking went, the slothful person was
poverty-stricken--variant of the sin of pride. Now that we've seen
where the worship of speed has landed us, we should know better. See:
DAWDLE, INDOLENT, LOLLYGAG.
slouch: It seems unnecessarily cruel to use this term for "excessive
relaxation of body muscles" to describe a lazy or incompetent person.
slowcoach: See: SLOTHFUL.
slug-a-bed: Goncharov is careful to show that Oblomov is not supine in
the manner of a slug-a-bed (for whom lying down is a real sensual
pleasure), but instead because of his lax hebetudinousness. See:
sluggard: "My indolence," lamented Dr. Johnson, "has sunk into grosser
sluggishness." The sluggard [from the Norwegian word for "large heavy
body," which came to mean "slow-moving person"] is a lazily inactive
person, one whom lassitude has rendered tediously slow-witted and
dull. See: LANGUID, LASSITUDE, TORPID, OBLOMOV.
slumberous: To be slumberous [from the Middle English word for "doze"]
is to be tired in the sense of lethargic, torpid. Slumberousness is
not the same thing as indolence. See: LASSITUDE, LETHARGIC, TIRED,
snooze: See: NAP.
somnolent: See: DROWSY.
spare time: See: FREE TIME.
spleen: Like ennui, spleen [from the Greek word for that internal
organ believed to be the seat of moroseness, or bad temper: hence
"splenetic"] is an affliction suffered by over-stimulated
sophisticates. The term was used in the mid-nineteenth century by
Romantic poets to refer to a particularly tempestuous compound of
boredom, lethargy, and despair: Sartre describes Baudelaire (for whom
spleen was a central principle) as suffering from a "feverish, sterile
agitation which knew that it was in vain and which was poisoned by a
merciless lucidity." See: ACEDIA, ENNUI, LETHARGIC.
sponger: Unlike the moocher, a sort of prodigal Holy Fool to whom all
right-thinking people must be generous, the sponger is a greedy,
calculating parasite. Giving to the moocher can be a momentary
rebellion against the project-oriented economic life; only suckers,
marks, and soft touches give to a sponger. See: CADGER.
stargazer: "We are all lying in the gutter," wrote Oscar Wilde, "but
some of us are looking at the stars." The stargazer is not a lazy
daydreamer; instead, he is absentminded in the best possible sense.
See: ABSENTMINDED, DREAMER.
stroll: Baudelaire, who was forced to flee his creditors by moving to
Belgium, complained that "strolling, something that nations with
imagination love, is not possible in Brussels." See: DRIFTER, FLÂNEUR,
supine: From the Latin for "lying on one's back," to be supine has
come to mean "inactive." But as Damien Hirst suggests with his maxim
"Minimum effort for maximum effect," there's nothing wrong with being
inactive. See: INACTIVE, LIE-ABED, LOLL, RECUMBENT, SLUG-A-BED.
swinger: See: SYBARITE.
sybarite: The inhabitants of ancient Sybaris, a Greek colony in
southern Italy, supposedly devoted themselves to unrestrained
self-indulgence--which is how their name became synonymous with
"pleasure-seeker." Unlike the Epicurean, whose quest for pleasure
isn't necessarily an exhausting one, the sybarite works at having fun.
What's the point of that? See: DISSIPATED, DISSOLUTE, LUXURIOUS.
thoughtless: Because of his absentmindedness, the idler is often
accused of being thoughtless--not in the sense of "insensitive," but
in the sense of "unthinking," or "scatterbrained." But as R. L.
Stevenson makes clear, it is instead those "dead-alive" people engaged
in a conventional occupation who "pass those hours in a sort of coma,
which are not dedicated to furious toiling in the gold-mill," and who
possess "not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for
the train." See: ABSENTMINDED, DISTRACTED, FORGETFUL.
tinker: How did the itinerant mender of household utensils [tinker is
either a contraction of "worker in tin," or an onomatopoetic word for
the sound of pots being repaired] come to be synonymous with
"unsuccessful mender" and "bungler"? Why are we so threatened by
rootlessness, and by the thought that someone would rather fiddle
around than hold down a steady job? See: FIDDLE AROUND.
tired: Everyone gets tired, but not all modes of tiredness are equal.
The supine idler seeks inspiration in that state of consciousness
which arises between sleep and waking; but the person who is
slumberous, drowsy, or languid is just giving in to the annihilating
force of torpor. See: LANGUID, LASSITUDE, RECUMBENT, RELAX, SUPINE,
torpid: Like the torpedo fish, which numbs its prey with an electric
shock, "torpor" [from the Latin for "stiff," "numb"] is an enervating
force which renders its victims sluggish, dull, and stagnant. See:
LANGUID, LASSITUDE, LETHARGIC, SLUGGARD, TIRED.
tramp: see BUM.
truant: R.L. Stevenson writes that "while others are filling their
memory with a lumber of words, one-half of which they will forget
before the week be out, your truant may learn some really useful art:
to play the fiddle, to know a good cigar, or to speak with ease and
opportunity to all varieties of men." See: DODGER, OTIOSE, SCAMP,
unconcerned: see APATHETIC, DETACHED.
unemployed: "I know, of course, how important it is not to keep a
business engagement," remarks one of Wilde's characters, "if one wants
to retain any sense of the beauty of life." To be unemployed doesn't
just mean "not engaged in a gainful occupation"; it also means,
etymologically, "not being used": Keep that in mind. See: QUIT,
unambitious, unindustrious, unproductive, unpunctilious: Un-, un-,
un-! Why aren't the words "unanal," "unuptight," and "unboring" in the
dictionary?! After quitting his job and moving to Paris, Henry Miller
wrote a book which begins: "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I
am the happiest man alive." So much for the world and its un-'s. See:
GOOD-FOR-NOTHING, LOSER, SKIVER.
useless: "There is something tragic," writes Wilde, "about the
enormous number of young men...who start life with perfect profiles,
and end by adopting some useful profession." Note also Lin Yutang's
maxim that "a perfectly useless afternoon spent in a perfectly useless
manner" is what makes life worth living. Useless actions are, in some
theories, the best way to resist the hegemony of a project-oriented
society. See: ANABHOGYA-CARYA, DETACHED, FIDDLE AROUND, IDLENESS,
Ukulele Ike: Before musician Cliff Edwards became a character actor
(and the voice of Pinocchio's Jiminy Cricket), he performed under the
pseudonym Ukulele Ike. His wistfully happy plinking has rendered many
a person--including, in particular, a friend of the author of this
glossary--absolutely paralyzed by beauty and emotion. See: DO-NOTHING,
INACTIVE, INDOLENT, VOLUPTÉ.
vacation: "I think that if I had two or three quiet days of just sheer
thinking I'd upset everything," Henry Miller complained. "I ought to
go to the office one day and blow out [my boss's] brains. That's the
first step." Now you know why your vacation [from the Latin for
"freedom"] is always so short, and so exhaustingly packed with
activities: Thinking must not be permitted. See: FREE TIME, LEISURELY,
RECUPERATE, RELAX, WORK.
vagabond: See: BUM.
vagrant: From the Latin for "wander," vagrant should be used as a
romantic adjective for "undecided"; "vague," a close etymological
relative, should remain a pejorative. If a synonym for "bum" is
required, use "vagabond" instead, please. See: MIND-WANDERING.
vegetate: Whereas seemingly passive behavior can actually be quite
revolutionary, to vegetate is simply to allow oneself to become
stagnant. See: PASSIVE, RELAX.
volupté: Aldous Huxley, noting with approval that the French are
neither concerned with trying to find a metaphysical justification for
the raptures of physical passion, nor propagandists of sensuality,
suggests that there is no English equivalent for volupté [from the
Latin word for "pleasure," which gives us "voluptuous"]. If
"voluptuousness," meaning "full of pleasure to the senses," carried
the connotation of detached (but not blasé) enjoyment, we'd be close:
The Epicurean seeks volupté; the sybarite, voluptuousness. See:
DETACHED, EPICUREAN, INDIFFERENT, NONCHALANT.
voluptuary: Despite the close etymological relationship to the word
volupté, a voluptuary is a person whose chief interests are luxury and
the gratification of his sensual appetites. As such, he is a sybarite,
not an Epicurean. See: SYBARITE.
waiting for one's ship to come in: See: MICAWBERISH.
waiter on providence: See: MICAWBERISH.
waiting for Godot: In Beckett's much-referenced (but
little-understood) play Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon
continue to do what they must do, even though it's frustrating and
pointless, and even though no one can understand what it is they're
doing, because they just can't do anything else. The idler, whose
project of self-creation often looks to outsiders like laziness or
useless footling, should be able to relate. As Damien Hirst says, of
his own apparent inactivity: "It's like when a car is idling. You have
the possibility of going somewhere, but you're not going anywhere. But
that doesn't mean you're not doing anything. The energy's there." See:
DO-NOTHING, GOOD-FOR-NOTHING, IDLENESS, SCAMP, SHIFTLESS, SLIPSHOD.
waste time: "There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to
do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting
one," writes Jerome K. Jerome. See: KILL TIME.
weasel: See: SCAMP.
whiffler: See: VAGRANT.
while away the hours: Not to be confused with killing or wasting time,
to while away the hours "conferrin' with the flowers, consultin' with
the rain" (as the Scarecrow sings in the film The Wizard of Oz) is a
delightfully foolish variant of fiddling around. See: FIDDLE AROUND.
whimsical: see ECCENTRIC.
whimsy: see DAYDREAMER.
wishy-washy: See: VAGRANT.
woolgathering: Although woolgathering has come to mean "daydreaming,"
this seems unfair to woolgatherers, who from all accounts tend not to
be slackers but idlers. See: STARGAZER.
work: "Work, work, in order that by becoming poorer, you may have more
reason to work and become miserable," writes Paul Lafargue. "Such is
the inexorable law of capitalist production." Bertrand Russell writes
that it is the ruling class's "desire for comfortable idleness which
is historically the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing
they have ever wished is that others should follow their [idle]
example." 'Nuff said. See: FREE TIME, LEISURELY, SLACKER, KILL TIME,
worker: Although idlers do work, of course, we need a term which means
not just someone who works, but someone who has been ruined by work,
and this might as well be it. See: SLACKER, THOUGHTLESS.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Idler.
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