In a word: Flaneur

July 25, 2011

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. This week's word:


Americans work long hours, and some don't even claim all the vacation time they are entitled to. Other nations adopt a more flexible attitude toward relaxation. The Italians, for example, have thoroughly developed the concept of dolce far niente, translated as "pleasant idleness," literally meaning "sweet doing nothing."

The French are somewhat more energetic about doing nothing. If, for example, you are a wealthy, fashionable socialite, you might merit the title boulevardier, from "one who frequents the boulevards" — where the smart shops and upscale restaurants are to be found.

To my mind, the title that captures the highest attainment of loafing is flaneur (pronounced flah-NEUR, but without too much stress on the second syllable, so as not to fatigue yourself). The word is translated "idler" or "lounger" or even "loafer," but it encompasses a more graceful and poetic approach to loafing, deriving from flaner, "to stroll" or "to saunter." Sauntering captures that elusive but essential quality of motion without undue exertion.

In Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals, Cornelia Otis Skinner wrote, "There is no English equivalent for the term, just as there is no Anglo-Saxon counterpart of that essentially Gallic individual, the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency, who, being French and therefore frugal, wastes nothing, including his time which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city."

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