Word of the Day: Languishing

Posted on Posted in American English Grammar and Usage, American words used in media, Business English, English lessons in New York, ESL Current Events, Online English lessons

Languishing is a word that probably hit its heyday a year ago.  You heard it and saw it on social media, news articles, and in everyday conversation.

Wait a second. Were we actually having conversations a year ago? On Zoom, maybe?

To languish per the Merriam-Webster dictionary (this teacher’s go-to dictionary) means:

to be or become feeble, weak, or enervated: Plants languish in the drought.

to be or live in a state of depression or decreasing vitality: He languished in prison for ten years

to become dispirited

to suffer neglect: The bill languished in the Senate for eight months

Shall we unpack that?

A cadaver (dead body) decays after death. Languishing is a kind of decay that happens while we are still alive.

Remember, in English we use the gerund (ing form) to express the name of the action. Languishing has become the word we use to express the feeling that many of us have during the prolonged pandemic.  It seems to encompass not only the hopelessness — the idea that this might never end, but also the resignation — the thought that though life goes on, it just won’t be as much fun.

Maybe at the beginning of the pandemic, we were more active and disciplined, going to online exercise classes, learning a new language, taking up painting, but over time we’ve become lazy.  We miss family get-togethers, hanging out worry free in a bar or cafe.  Even as the numbers go down, we live in a constant state of anxiety.

While most of us have returned to “normal” life, there are still profound changes. Many older people or people with lower-immunity still need to be cautious. Those of us with those people in our lives need to be cautious as well. Some people are still suffering with long-COVID. And many of us live in places where the number of cases is still high.  Here in New York City, some businesses demanded people return to the office — at least part time, until new cases turned up, and the plans were scrapped. 

All of this up and down — all these changes — have an impact. There are few COVID deaths, less chance that you’ll wind up in the hospital or even seriously ill if you’ve been vaccinated and boosted, but still the uncertainty exists. We can’t escape it. Even on a vacation, you face the stress of taking a test before you can come home.  

I wonder about my students. When the pandemic began, I was already seeing most of them online. Switching to 100% online lessons was easy.  But over time when work and recreation were all remote, More people wanted shorter lessons. We get tired of being in front of screens all day!  I have fewer students these days and more cancellations. Is it the recession?  Is it simply that with the labor shortage, people with jobs are less afraid of losing them so they don’t feel they “must” improve their English to remain competitive? Or is it something else — a feeling that none of this matters, that none of our actions are important, so why not skip the English class, or the Zoom Yoga, or the Peloton session, and just relax on the couch for a while?  

What keeps me going is the students who are still showing up. And I’ll tell you why:  I am blessed to be working with some highly successful people. They don’t have time to languish! Even in the middle of the pandemic, they were giving 100% to their jobs, and families, as well as doing things that were important to them like continuing their English language journey.  It was their discipline, drive, and optimism that helped pull me through. Their resilience was contagious, even though it was remote.


(If you would like to read more about “languishing,” here is a link to a New York Times article about the phenomenon. If you would like more information about English lessons. Please visit the home page to get started.)