tor·​por ˈtȯr-pər How to pronounce torpor (audio)
: a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility
: a state of lowered physiological activity typically characterized by reduced metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature that occurs in varying degrees especially in hibernating and estivating animals

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The English word torpor is a 13th-century borrowing from Latin: torpōr-, torpor mean "numbness, paralysis, absence of energy, lethargy," and correspond to the Latin verb torpēre, meaning "to be numb, lack sensation; to be struck motionless; to be sluggish or lethargic." Early use of the English word is found in a 13th-century guide for religious recluses, where it refers to a spiritual or intellectual lethargy, but scant evidence of the word appears between that point and the 1600s, when the word began to be used in reference to both mental and physical sluggishness. The related adjective torpid (from the Latin adjective torpidus, meaning "numbed" or "paralyzed") has since the 15th century been used to mean "numb," but today it more often means "lacking in energy or vigor."

Choose the Right Synonym for torpor

lethargy, languor, lassitude, stupor, torpor mean physical or mental inertness.

lethargy implies such drowsiness or aversion to activity as is induced by disease, injury, or drugs.

months of lethargy followed my accident

languor suggests inertia induced by an enervating climate or illness or love.

languor induced by a tropical vacation

lassitude stresses listlessness or indifference resulting from fatigue or poor health.

a depression marked by lassitude

stupor implies a deadening of the mind and senses by shock, narcotics, or intoxicants.

lapsed into an alcoholic stupor

torpor implies a state of suspended animation as of hibernating animals but may suggest merely extreme sluggishness.

a once alert mind now in a torpor

Examples of torpor in a Sentence

The news aroused him from his torpor. after a lifetime of setbacks, defeats, and failures, he could only greet the latest bad news with a resigned fatalism and dull torpor
Recent Examples on the Web Chen agrees that pigs probably are the next rung on the ladder to payoffs in torpor induction. Emily Willingham, Scientific American, 5 June 2023 This kind of hibernation, also known as torpor, is more than just a long sleep. Jackie Appel, Popular Mechanics, 5 May 2023 And the drugs produced a torpor that became their normality, which Anita talks about with indelible candor. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 30 May 2023 Mice can enter into a natural torpor when frightened or stressed. Emily Willingham, Scientific American, 5 June 2023 The mice cooled off by shifting body heat into their tails—a classic sign of torpor, Bruekelen notes—and their heart rates and metabolisms slowed. Byemily Underwood,, 25 May 2023 The three species studied spent five to 35 percent of the night in shallow torpor. Carolyn Wilke, Scientific American, 1 May 2022 The afternoon ahead of you is gray with torpor. James Parker, The Atlantic, 19 Dec. 2020 Emphasizing mood over motion, the books channel the stifling torpor of modern labor, casting work as disorienting and suffocating. Stephen Kearse, The Atlantic, 15 Apr. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'torpor.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, borrowed from Latin torpōr-, torpor "numbness, paralysis, absence of energy, lethargy," s-stem noun derivative corresponding to the stative verb torpēre "to be numb, lack sensation, be struck motionless, be sluggish or lethargic" — more at torpid

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of torpor was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near torpor

Cite this Entry

“Torpor.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


tor·​por ˈtȯr-pər How to pronounce torpor (audio)
: temporary loss or suspension of motion or feeling
: a state of lowered bodily activity (as during hibernation) that is a response to an unfavorable environmental condition (as cold or drought)
: apathy

Medical Definition


tor·​por ˈtȯr-pər How to pronounce torpor (audio)
: a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility : extreme sluggishness or stagnation of function

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