Time to put your feet up: words connected with doing nothing

Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/Getty

by Liz Walter

It’s August, and for many people that means holiday time (vacation time if you’re a US English speaker), so in this post I thought I’d make some suggestions for words and phrases connected with being lazy and not doing much.

There are several words for lazy people. They are all negative, but some are more disapproving than others. Describing someone as a layabout indicates strong disapproval, while lazybones could be used almost affectionately. Slacker could be used seriously or semi-humorously, as could the informal couch potato. Work-shy is a very disapproving word, often used for unemployed people suspected of not wanting to get a job.

Lazy is a basic word (remember to change the ‘y’ to an ‘i’ in laziness). A less common synonym is idle, a word which we often make stronger by referring to someone as bone idle (extremely lazy). Interestingly, the adverb idly is used in much less disapproving contexts. You might, for example, be ‘idly drifting down a river’ or ‘idly flicking through a magazine’. The connotation here is one of a pleasant lack of purpose or hurry. Slothful is a rare and rather literary word: the noun sloth is one of the ‘seven deadly sins’ in Christian tradition.

There are also a number of disapproving idioms that we use to talk about lazy people. We might say that someone didn’t lift a finger (didn’t do any work at all), or – more rudely – that they sat around on their backside (UK English)/ass (US English) doing nothing.

However, there are also some more positive words and phrases that we use when we feel the person concerned deserves some rest and relaxation. We talk about people taking a break and having a chance to unwind or wind down – words which have the image of a person being tightly wound up with stress and therefore needing to relax. We also say that people need to recharge their batteries by having a rest and building up their energy levels again. We might encourage a tired person to put their feet up for a while, or to take it easy.

Going on holiday gives us a chance to kick back, chill out or laze around – all phrasal verbs that basically mean relax and do nothing. We might describe a holiday as restorative if it makes us feel better than we felt before it, especially if it gives us respite (a pause or rest) from a difficult situation. If we describe an activity or a period of time as leisurely we mean that it is relaxed and there is no hurry involved.

If you are lucky enough to be taking a holiday this month, I hope you enjoy it. Look out for a post next month on the opposite topic – effort and hard work!

17 thoughts on “Time to put your feet up: words connected with doing nothing

  1. Nadun Ratnayake

    Though I am a lazybone when it comes to writing , I just cannot be idle seeing your
    fruitful article about words related to lazyness.It always make daytoday convercations more live and energetic when you we use several words instead of using the same word for every occation.To remember new words ,what I do is writing few sentences of them .It would be great if you can suggest me few pragmatic methods to remember these kind of nice words which always make rich the language of English -I look forward eagarly to read your next blog -Have a nice day around …..

    1. Liz Walter

      What a lovely comment! It sounds as though you are doing all the right things! These posts will give you a lot of good vocabulary – try and think about which ones would be most useful for you and make an effort to learn them. If you look them up in the Cambridge dictionary on this site, you will often find extra examples of their use.

  2. Hadeel Hammam

    I feel happy when I read such as these posts, not only the vocabularies that I need, but also their contexts and connotations Thank you, Liz

  3. Larry2903

    Hello,
    I noticed that “lazybones” is described as “disapproving” in dictionary, yet here it is written that it might be very positive. Should I assume that dictionary is wrong with that one?
    Thank you in advance 🙂

    1. Liz Walter

      Ah, that’s interesting! Lazybones definitely isn’t positive, but you wouldn’t use it if you were seriously angry with someone – it’s more the kind of thing you might say to a friend or relative in a slightly joky way ‘Come on, lazybones, it’s time to get up now.’

  4. Terry

    Thanks for your interesting writing.

    Just one comment – towards the end you wrote “especially if it give us respite (a pause or rest)…”. I suppose it should be “gives” instead of “give”.

  5. PRP

    I have most definitely heard most of them but slothful and work-shy. When talking to friends or listening to the radio I do it very attentively in order for me to pick up new vocabulary and then write them down in context.
    Great post, I am looking forward to reading the next one.

  6. Zosia

    I would also mention about ” I can’t be bothered doing anything”. I think it might be useful in speaking English.
    Thank you
    Zosia

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