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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a situation in which there is a lack of success, activity, or improvement

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The plural noun the doldrums probably comes from the old adjective ‘dold’ or dull, with the addition of the ending ‘-rums’ to mean dull or low spirits. It has been used in English since the early 19th century.


Hampshire-based sailor Alex Thomson, who is currently leading in the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world sailing race, was interviewed as he approached the area of sea near the equator known as the Doldrums. He described it as an area of thunderclouds and big gusts of wind followed by large areas of calm, and it is for the latter that the Doldrums are notorious. This belt of low pressure, which is technically known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone, is where the northeast and southeast trade winds meet, creating areas of calm windless weather that can leave sailing ships becalmed for days or even weeks. Contrary to what you might expect, the geographical area was named after the condition rather than the reverse; people assumed that someone being in the doldrums was a reference to a place rather than a state, and the name was then applied to the area of the oceans where such a state might occur among sailors stuck on a motionless ship.


“After years in the doldrums, the market is finally picking up.
(Macmillan Dictionary)

My hope is to exit the Doldrums with the same lead and not to lose.
(Alex Thomson speaking on BBC Radio 4)

Related Words

dead end, gridlock, impasse, quagmire

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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