July marks the lowest ebb of my summer, at least when I do not escape Richmond’s continual sauna for more temperate climes. I feel like I’m a ship becalmed under a burning sun. In a word, in the doldrums. By August I’m gearing up for the semester ahead and the doldrums lie behind me.
Our word this week has a fascinating history, with the OED Online providing an etymology from the more familiar “dull” and the less familiar “dold,” meaning dim-witted. We no longer call a dull or boring person a “doldrum,” saving that term for dull moods, as when Carlo Marx, the fictional counterpart of Allen Ginsberg in Kerouac’s On the Road, complains of times when he is not being creative as his “doldrums.”
I consider the nautical use of the word its most pow
erful. Every summer, for no reason I can fathom, I pack my sea chest and embark on a fictional sea voyage, usually by sail. It is not something I’d ever want to do in reality, but the specialized language of sailing, the rich history, and of course the many disasters compel me to read on. This year my pick is Joshua Slocum’s 1900 memoir, Sailing Alone Around the World. Slocum was the first person, at least on record, to do so. He faced many dangers, from pirates, storms, to hostile native tribes, and I looked forward with delight to his traversing the Atlantic doldrums, an equitorial region where winds are calm or nonexistent.
Slocum sailed right through, to my great disappointment. Otherwise, the book is really fine reading. Yet to this reader the thought of being beca
lmed at sea seems worse than any storm. All one can do is wait for wind. Thus the term fits well with Carlo Marx’s, and other writers’, fears of getting stuck.
May your doldrums be brief and a fair wind fill your sails, until the storms of Autumn arrive.
This blog will continue all summer, so nominate a word by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
See all of our Words of the Week here.
Creative Commons image from Flikr, courtesy of Joan Campderrós-i-Canas