I like to teach my students new words. This fact should not come as a surprise to any of you, since I believe I've made it fairly clear that teaching words is my business. Sometimes, if we run into a particularly good word during a day's reading assignment, I'll joke with them about the word of the day, something that they should try working back into daily use. "Flagitious" was the best of these last semester; "vilipend" might be the best we've encountered so far this semester. (Dickens's bad lobster simile from yesterday, though it's not, strictly speaking, a word, is coming up a close second, I have to say.)
This afternoon, in the aftermath of a couple of late nights and of a very busy Tuesday morning and afternoon, I'm feeling lassitude. Lassitude is hardly a word that has fallen out of the lexicon, of course, but it's one whose Oxford English Dictionary definition contains a couple of interesting nuances about which you should know, in the interests of keeping your linguistic being as spritely and lively as possible (which is, after all, one of my subsidiary desires for you--and speaking of desires, have you noticed that you're getting interpellated as my reader in more and more specific ways as the weeks wear on?). For those of you without OED access, here's the definition of this English successor to the Latin "lassitudo," from "lassus" (meaning weary):
The condition of being weary whether in body or mind; a flagging of the bodily or mental powers; indifference to exertion; weariness; an instance of this.Of particular interest here: the fact that one can feel lassitude of either mind or body; the fact that lassitude can be either a condition or a becoming, a process; and, my favorite, that "indifference to exertion" is one of its possible dimensions.
I am in a temporary state of indifference to exertion. Often, such a state hits me at about 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, since my Tuesday/Thursday class regularly requires my exertion and thus hits me harder, all around, than my other classes do. I know well enough that the lassitude will lift, that I'll catch a second wind in about 90 minutes, that I'll stay up and relatively merrily get my work done. But for now, I sit just a little.
In case you're not familiar with it, one thing you should know about the Oxford English Dictionary is that it not only defines words but also offers you historical instances of their use. It delights me to no end that the last example offered for "lassitude" is dated 1886 and comes from John Ruskin's tragic autobiography Praeterita: "Periods of renewed enthusiasm after intervals of lassitude." I anticipate precisely such a period of renewed enthusiasm this evening. In the longer view, the pattern and pacing of enthusiasm and lassitude following one after the other, in fairly swift succession, is one that eventually took Ruskin down. This summer, I spent time reading the diary Ruskin kept while writing his autobiographical sketches. Some days, he could barely sit still and reported having gone out to hew things with his servants, having climbed in his incredible gardens, having written from time to time, having gone on long walks or even crossed Coniston Water to spend time in Coniston. And then come the falls: the days and weeks when he suffered, when he didn't get up or come downstairs, when he feared he was going mad, when he was going mad. It's a startling record, and one that makes the patterns of Praeterita even more poignant than they were for me before.
My recoils are not so scary in large part because they make so much sense to me; of course, if you go all out for a couple of days, you must not go all out for at least a space of time. But when I was inordinately proud of being able to do something more closely approximating going all out, all the time, I used to fear the backlash, the fatigue, the forced regroup that my body would pull on me. Even today, I'm feeling a little impatient at the light weight suspended behind my eyes and around the top of my head. But my impatience is kinder--and, weirdly, more patient--than ever.
source for today's image: Artophile.com (and has lassitude ever dressed better, really?)