Words at Play

7 Words to Beat the Summer Heat

The heat may have gone to your head, but that doesn't mean your vocabulary has to go to the dogs.
Last Updated: 19 May 2020

sleeping baby cat resting its head on a tiny pillow

adjective 1 : marked by inactivity or repose : tranquilly at rest 2 : causing no trouble or symptoms

Sir Francis Bacon may be responsible for pulling this word from its Latin parentage into its English existence; he wrote in The Advancement of Learning (1605) "For the nature of man doth extremely covet to have somewhat in his understanding fixed and unmovable, and as a rest and support of the mind. And, therefore, as Aristotle endeavoureth to prove, that in all motion there is some point quiescent…." The word traces to the Latin verb quiescere, meaning "to become quiet; rest." Today the English word quiescent is used to mean "tranquilly at rest," or, in medical contexts, "causing no trouble or symptoms." It is also sometimes used to describe silent letters especially in Semitic languages like Hebrew.

She was standing on the causeway with her aunt and a group of cousins feeding the chickens, at that quiet moment in the life of the farmyards before the afternoon milking-time. The great buildings round the hollow yard were as dreary and tumbledown as ever, but over the old garden-wall the straggling rose-bushes were beginning to toss their summer weight, and the gray wood and old bricks of the house, on its higher level, had a look of sleepy age in the broad afternoon sunlight, that suited the quiescent time.
— George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860

A reduction in shipping activity during COVID-19 provides a valuable opportunity to move towards this goal. Quiescent vessels can be fitted with upgrades to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. Quieter shipyards can retool and secure political support to prepare for future demand to be met with zero-emission vessels.
— Douglas McCauley, Kristian Teleki, and Gloria Fluxà Thienemann, World Economic Forum (weforum.org), 12 May 2020

logy

adjective : sluggish, groggy

A light summer soup turns hefty with a dollop of cream. And the addition of a butter or olive oil sauce can transform the leanest, poached fish into a dietary hazard—leaving the diner feeling as logy as a hot, humid night.
— Molly O'Neill, The New York Times Magazine, 13 June 1993

We don't know quite where logy (which has been in use since the mid-1800s) comes from; etymologists' best guess is that the source is the Dutch word log, meaning "heavy." (That word shares an ancestor with the Middle Low German luggich, meaning "lazy.") Logy (also spelled loggy) is also occasionally used to mean "lacking resistance" and "not recovering quickly when stress is released," as in "a logy piece of rubber."

He knows that I eat very little during the day: some fruit, maybe a yogurt. This isn’t some Jack Dorsey-style, tech-bro, life-hack fasting stunt, just a peculiar pattern I fell into a long time ago, when I recognized that — for me, anyway — lunch is a time-suck and makes me logy and unproductive.
— David Kamp, quoted in Grub Street, 15 May 2020

languid

adjective 1 : drooping or flagging from or as if from exhaustion : weak 2 : sluggish in character or disposition : listless 3 : lacking force or quickness of movement : slow

I have seen my children look at me with sympathy when I tell them that my summer holidays were spent reading books and swimming with my friends, and that travel or television was only a very small part of these. They are unable to comprehend the joys of playtime that only ever involved board games, the thrill of going over your stamp collection over a languid summer afternoon, and the delicious anticipation of a homemade pizza.
— Shunali Khullar Shroff, LiveMint.com, 14 May 2020

Languid has been used since the late 1500s in its "weak" sense. It wasn't until the early 1700s that the word was used to describe days when the most sensible thing to do is sip lemonade in the shade or float on water in something inflatable. The word traces back to Latin languēre, meaning "to languish."

There's another word languid—a noun meaning "the inner tongue or flat plate opposite the mouth of an organ flue pipe," but that piece inside the pipe is more often called a languet. Languet comes from langue, meaning "tongue"—also the source of the word language.

torpor

noun 1 a : a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility b : 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 2 : apathy, dullness

A dark shadow ran along the river, rolling over and covering up the sparkle of declining sunlight. A big white cloud sailed slowly across the darkening sky, and hung to the westward as if waiting for the sun to join it there. Men and things shook off the torpor of the hot afternoon and stirred into life under the first breath of the sea breeze.
— Joseph Conrad, Almayer's Folly, 1895

It’s the noon hour. All of a sudden, you have a need to escape or, conversely, to surrender to torpor, into the throes of an afternoon nap, even if you’re not really tired. Perhaps you also have an urge to daydream about a romantic and exciting place beyond confined walls.
— Peter Feuerherd, JSTOR Daily, 29 Mar. 2020

While people may be able to shake off torpor that sets in when the heat takes away the will to get things done, it's a bit harder for animals, for whom the word has a more technical meaning. An animal in torpor is in a state of lowered body temperature and metabolic activity, usually because of extreme heat or cold. The torpor can last a few hours or it can last for months. Torpid, the related adjective also from Latin torpēre, meaning "to be sluggish or numb," also has both technical and nontechnical applications.

soporific

adjective 1 a : causing or tending to cause sleep b : tending to dull awareness or alertness 2 : of, relating to, or marked by sleepiness or lethargy

Lana (Sydney Sweeney) peels a clementine, places her thumb in the core and holds it up to the sun. She’s lounging on a lakeside dock telling her companion a story that sounds fictional. Karen (Otmara Marrero) is lulled by her voice and the soporific sunshine. She’s also distraught after a breakup. The unnerving musical score reinforces the idea that Lana’s an unreliable narrator.
— Jeffrey Edalatpour, SF Weekly, 10 May 2020

Soporific is perfect for describing steamy summer afternoons when a siesta is all anyone is good for. Or you can use it to describe things that make you drowsy, like a full belly or boring lecture. It's also used in more technical contexts as both an adjective and noun: a soporific drug or medicine causes or tends to cause sleep, and can itself also be called a soporific. The word comes from the Latin sopor, meaning "deep sleep." Sopor is related to somnus, Latin for "sleep," and the name of the Roman god of sleep.

laggard

noun : one that lags or lingers

The new rule would take the United States from a position that ranked among global leaders in fuel economy to a position of a global laggard.
— Ethan N. Elkind, The Regulatory Review (theregreview.org), 18 May 2020

A laggard is someone or something that lags behind or lingers where others move along more quickly. It comes from the noun lag, which now usually means "a space of time between events or phenomena" but originally, in the early 1500s, meant "one that stays or falls behind." This meaning is evident in the verb lag, meaning "to stay or fall behind," which is only slightly newer than the noun. Lag is thought to be of Scandinavian origin, but laggard is an English construction in the tradition of drunkard and dullard that dates to the early 1700s, which makes it about the same age as the adjective laggard meaning "lagging or tending to lag."

sluggish

adjective 1 : averse to activity or exertion : indolent; also : torpid 2 : slow to respond (as to stimulation or treatment) 3 a : markedly slow in movement, flow, or growth b : economically inactive or slow

By and by came several canal-boats, at intervals of a quarter of a mile, standing up to Hooksett with a light breeze, and one by one disappeared round a point above. With their broad sails set, they moved slowly up the stream in the sluggish and fitful breeze, like one-winged antediluvian birds, and as if impelled by some mysterious counter-current.
—Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849

The word sluggish comes from slug, and so calls to mind one of those plump little (or not so little) shell-less snails that leave shimmery trails across garden stones. But as is so often the case with words, the history of slug surprises: when slug first was used in the early 1400s it referred not to a gastropod but to a habitually lazy person, a sluggard.




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