Using the Adjective “Lackadaisical”

By Maeve Maddox

One of my mother’s favorite words was lackadaisical. Example: Don’t vote for her to head the committee. She’s too lackadaisical to get anything done.

Some people use lackadaisical as a synonym for “lazy,” but that’s not quite what the word means.

This headline indicates the difference:

FCC: Lazy Or Just Lackadaisical?

Lazy implies the deliberate avoidance of work in order to spare oneself effort. Lackadaisical implies lack of purpose. The lazy person has a purpose. The lackadaisical person is content to let things happen.

The adjective lackadaisical derives ultimately from the word lack in the Middle English sense of “loss, failure, reproach, shame.” When people were overcome by the sadness, unfairness, or futility of life, they would put the back of their hands to their foreheads and exclaim “Ah, lack!”

“Ah, lack” became the word alack. Then came the expression “Alack the day!”

On a day, alack the day!

Love, whose month was ever May,

Spied a blossom passing fair,

Playing in the wanton air… Shakespeare, “Love’s Perjuries”

“Alack the day” contracted to the interjection lackaday:

Ah, lack-a-day! it’s a troublesome world!

Lack-a-day became lack-a-daisy:

The carpenter..said ‘lack-a-daisy!’ when he saw that the old theatre was pulled down.

The whimsical adjective lackadaisical derives from the exclamation lackadaisy.

The OED gives this definition of lackadaisical:

Resembling one who is given to crying ‘Lackaday!’; full of vapid feeling or sentiment; affectedly languishing. Said of persons, their behaviour, manners, and utterances.

Merriam-Webster defines lackadaisical this way:

lacking life, spirit, or zest : devoid of energy or purpose

These examples from the web indicate that lackadaisical is now used most often to mean lack of energy or purpose:

Having a lackadaisical selling effort is nothing to be proud of

Cleveland police remain too lackadaisical in handling sex crimes

Lackadaisical play irks White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen

Giuliani: Obama has ‘lackadaisical attitude’ toward war, Gulf oil crisis

Why are today’s teenagers so careless and lackadaisical?

Are Christian churches today lackadaisical on discipline?

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7 Responses to “Using the Adjective “Lackadaisical””

  • Siegfried Goodfellow

    I subscribe to a language use theory, whereby meaning shifts as dialects do from location to location, scene to scene, use to use, and the way this word was always used in my social circles, it had a much more whimsical feel. The feeling was not of lethargy or despair, but rather carefree and happy-go-lucky to an almost devil-may-care kind of level. It was a term one might apply to a pleasant if indolent rascal. But such a person was definitely full of energy and spunk and spirit. It’s just there was an offhandedness to them in the lulls between their mischiefs, which lulls they took very seriously by lavishing them with a certain defiant sumptuousness. I would think of Tom Sawyer here as he relaxes while others whitewash the fence. For such a person, even their lulls have a mischievous quality, albeit more relaxed. Relaxed, carefree, unconcerned with work ethic, happy to twiddle and chew straw on a haystack while others labor, the complacent hare taking a rest while the turtle plods along. In short, it was a much more magical and evocative term, with an almost fairylike quality. Perhaps how we approach carefree and indolent depends on the values with which we experience it. I’m not disputing other definitions, but perhaps that’s how the root is experienced under domination of the work ethic, and perhaps my social milieu had turned the word’s meaning under the more hippie values reigning about me when I was young. So take this report of usage for what it is worth. I consider the word’s connotations in my circles to be quite the gift.

  • BULLSHIT ARTICLE

    lack·a·dai·si·cal   [lak-uh-dey-zi-kuhl] Show IPA
    adjective
    1.
    without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic: a lackadaisical attempt.
    2.
    lazy; indolent: a lackadaisical fellow.

  • Beat Your Meat

    They get the “SA” as Lacksadaisical i would guess from the whole “You seemed pretty LAXxX about the whole situation.”

    Haven’t you heard anyone say Lacks, or LAX… ?

    as in Lack-a-daisical, they says Lacksadaisical……. when saying the long version of this dumbass word.

    that’s MY excuse at least, call me a dumbass Red. Do eeeet! *bows*

  • Greg Stobaugh

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  • Precise Edit

    Great post, Maeve. The history of words tells so much about the history of people. Fun!

  • Phil Dragonetti

    What irritates me is that some people pronounce the word
    lask-SA-daisical. Where they get the “sa” from beats me!!!

  • BRambo

    I hear this a lot as “lacksadaisical.” I assume that each person I hear saying that lacksaclue.

    🙂

    BRambo

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