Indolence and Indolent

By Maeve Maddox

When I heard an NPR reporter use the expression “passive indolence,” I decided I’d better look up the word because I thought indolent included the idea of passivity. I couldn’t imagine, for example, talking about “active indolence.”

The noun indolence has traveled a long way from its original meaning of “freedom from pain.”

The Latin noun indolentia means “freedom from pain.” The abstract noun came from the Latin verb dolere, “to be pained” and the negative prefix in, “not.” Indolentia was a state of not being in pain.

In modern medical usage, indolence and the adjective indolent retain the meaning of absence of pain:

indolent: causing little pain; slow growing.

Examples of indolent and indolence in the context of pathology:

indolent ulcers occur on the upper lip of cats at almost any age.

Indolent lymphomas are usually not considered curable because the cancer grows too slowly to be targeted accurately by most modern treatments.

Prostate Cancer Indolence vs Aggressiveness

Progress in the Treatment of Indolent Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

In general usage, however, indolence means, “the disposition to avoid trouble; love of ease.”

Indolent is also a synonym for lazy.

In the sense of taking things easy or giving oneself over to relaxation, indolence is not necessarily a bad thing. Hard-working people deserve occasional spells of indolence: lying on the beach or drowsing in a hammock on a pleasant afternoon.

It is when people habitually avoid their responsibilities that indolence becomes a vice.

the arrogance of orthodox economists, and the indolence of mainstream journalists.

the authorities have already been breaking [the law] through their incapacity or their indolence in the face of the crisis of insecurity.

China Punishes 20,000 Officials For Waste, Mediocrity, Indolence

Mitt Romney: ‘“Nonworking parents” raise “indolent and unproductive” kids.

Gordon slams indolent congressmen for lack of quorum in the House

Indolence and indolent are useful words to describe laziness and irresponsibility, but an expression like “passive indolence” seems pleonastic.

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5 Responses to “Indolence and Indolent”

  • D.A.W.

    “China Punishes 20,000 Officials For Waste, Mediocrity, Indolence”

    Wow, that is TOUGH because “mediocre” means “average”, and any look at “bell curves”, or just common sense, shows that most people are average or close to it. So, Chinese officials were punishing people for being simply average (mediocre).

    Back before “grade inflation” struck schools in the U.S.A. and Canada, the most common grade by far for students to get in their courses was a “C”, which was definitely an average or mediocre grade. Nowadays, we have the problem of students and their parents getting upset because the students “only” got a “B”.
    On the other hand, I still think that a B is an honorable grade.
    It most certainly is one in graduate school, medical school, etc.

  • venqax

    Maybe in law or med school, but a B won’t do at all in most academic grad programs. Many require a GPA of at least 3.5 to stay in, which means you can’t afford Bs or even A-s. Grad students are basically expected to get straight As for the most part, so obviously the old scale that said Cs were average and Bs and As exceptional doesn’t hold at more than just Lake Wobegon University. All grad students are expected to be “exceptional”. Logic, obviously, isn’t a great part of grad education, either. And a C is failure. Some programs won’t even award credit for the course with a grade of C.

    Emphasis: I’m not saying that how it should be…etc.

  • dragonwielder

    DAW – my dictionaries say that “mediocre” can also mean inferior or not very good. I get the feeling this headline was using “mediocrity” in that sense.

    Maeve, I was surprised to see “indolence” meaning “absence of pain” – I’m only familiar with the (pejorative) meaning of laziness. Although it makes sense, looking at the Latin roots. Now I will know what the doctors are talking about if they ever mention indolence to me! 🙂

  • venqax

    I think you’re right. Mediocre may mean average in some denotative sense, but it definitely has a pejorative connotation that average doesn’t. Accusing someone of mediocrity is clearly a condemnation of their performance as somehow worse than just average implies. M-W gives the first, straightforward definition as, “Not very good”. I don’t think Not Very Good vs Okay or Average convey the same meaning, though they literally could.

  • Shing

    But surely there is a difference between “passive indolence” and “active indolence”.

    Wally from the Dilbert comics actively works hard to avoid work.

    “Active indolence” means being WILLFUL and doing something to avoid dealing with something.
    for example: Lazy cat that hides FROM the mouses.

    “Passive indolence” does not even require someone to be aware that he needs to do something.
    for example: A house plant.

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