In a word: accidie

March 17, 2014|By John McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

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


For Christmas a couple of years ago my daughter gave me cufflinks, two from a set representing the Seven Deadly Sins. Displaying her intimate knowledge of my character, she picked Sloth and Wrath. 

Thanks to the generosity of English, we have another word, a very old word, for sloth, accidie (pronounced AK-suh-dee). Accidie is not mere laziness, though that can be a component. The term encompasses physical and mental listlessness, apathy, lethargy, torpor, a sense of disconnectedness from life. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that as a manifestation of the sin of sloth, it was seen "in Christian asceticism as a condition to which monks and hermits were particularly liable."

The Normans brought it into English, and there are citations from the thirteenth century. It is a variant of the Latin acedia, "listlessness," "indifference," "apathy."

Even if you're not a monk, watch out for it. 

Example: From a letter written by Kingsley Amis in 1961: "Vacation accidie is upon me. I'm supposed to be writing this perishing film-script—haven't touched it yet."

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