Origin of the word
Originating in the Greek language as ‘lethargos’ meaning ‘inactive or forgetful’, ‘lethargikos’ was used to mean ‘drowsy’ and in Latin ‘lethargicus’ was ‘affected with lethargy’. By the late 14th century, ‘litargik’ was in use for ‘unhealthily drowsy, showing signs of lethargy’.
Circa 1590, lethargic meant ‘pertaining to or relating to lethargy’ and by the 17th century there was also the verb form ‘lethargise’ and a new noun ‘letharge’, meaning a ‘lethargic patient’.
The related word lethargy has similar roots, travelling from the Greek for ‘forgetful’ (lethargos) to ‘forgetfulness’ (lethargia), to Late Latin ‘lethargia’ and Medieval Latin ‘litargia.’ In the late 14th century, ‘litarge’ had the rather more elaborate sense of being in a ‘state of inactivity or prolonged dormancy, lack of alertness of mind or body’. In English, the form using ‘th’ first appeared in the 1590s while it was the Medieval Latin form that influenced the Old French ‘litargie’ and the Italian and Spanish ‘letargia’.
Related words: lethargy, lethargically
The words lethargy and lethargic are sometimes used to refer to unenthusiastic sports play or inactive displays in public life:
“Forfar Farmington head coach Mark Nisbet: ‘In the cup the result is the most important thing, but the performance level from us today wasn’t anywhere near where we expect it to be. We gave the ball back to Cumbernauld far too often, and we made it difficult for ourselves. I just thought overall today we were a wee bit lethargic, a wee bit off the pace.’” BBC Sport. 10 September 2017: Women’s Scottish Cup: Forfar Farmington squeeze past battling Cumbernauld Colts.
“Commentators on the left complained of a mood of lethargy and resignation.” Guardian. 1 May 2017: Marine Le Pen’s party upbeat amid complaints of lethargy on the left.
1. Lacking energy and not wanting to do anything
View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.
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