[Paleopsych] Hermenaut: An Idler's Glossary

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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, 

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: 

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 

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, 

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 

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 

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, 

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. 

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. 

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: 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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 

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, 

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: 

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 

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, 

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, 

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 

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 

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: 

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 

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: 

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 
sleeping-because-one-has-been-working-to-the-point-of-exhaustion. See: 

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: 

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 

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, 

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, 

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 

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: 

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." 

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. 

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, 

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: 

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 

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.


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 


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 

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 

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, 

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 

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, 

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 

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. 

sit back: "When things are going to rack and ruin," writes Henry 
Miller, "the most purposeful act may be to sit still." See: 

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: 

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 

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: 

slouch: It seems unnecessarily cruel to use this term for "excessive 
relaxation of body muscles" to describe a lazy or incompetent person. 
See: LOLL.

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 

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. 

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 

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 

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 

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: 

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: 

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 

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, 

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, 

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: 

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: 

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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