Are we not now all as free as birds, or at least as cut-price as birds – birds in cages, at liberty to flap five times from bars to bars, before finding it otiose and retiring to indolence with a barely civil “Oi!”

Such is oisivity: idleness, lassitude, indolence, feckless mopishness, incessant siestatude. When you have nowhere to go and all day to get there… well, as Thomas Fersen says, “sorry, only got two feet” – though, lately, that means two feet of space.

A person might indulge verbal excess at great length, as a late 18th-century author in Fraser’s Magazine did, apparently under the influence of pipes and pints; here’s about one percent of the peroration:

The genius of Colburn is then bothered and confused by the diverse plagiarism, or the indolent and hallucinatory oisivity of Campbell. I shall indulge in none of these heteroclite and derogatory proceedings.

(Narrator’s voice: Oh, but he did.)

Well, words out the wazoo, or wha’s up? Who’s a oiseau? No, no, don’t have a bird – I mean, what would be the point anyway. This word oisivity looks like it’s related to the French word for ‘bird’, oiseau, but that word comes from a slurred version of Latin avicellus, ‘little bird’, from avis, ‘bird’, which is also the source of French oie, ‘goose’. The slurring in oisivity instead ultimately obnubilates otiosus, by way of oisive (and oisif). Yes, otiosus, the direct source of otiose, which means ‘futile, pointless, useless’. Like the t in the middle of otiose, I guess, for some people anyway. Oy.

But, since it’s an English word, oisivity is said like an English word. When it’s said at all, that is, which is generally never-ish. It has a sibling, ocivity, which is also never heard or written these days. What can I say – I guess, somehow, torpor notwithstanding, we just don’t have the time. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s