What would you call a person that just stands by and won't act? Is kind of acting like a spectator when in reality that person should do something?

I know there is a word for this because I knew what it was a few hours ago but now I can’t remember it.

  • Are you looking for a noun or for an adjective?
    – user7065
    Jun 23, 2014 at 2:30

6 Answers 6


Perhaps you’re thinking of the bystander effect. You could describe someone who doesn’t meet their responsibilities as negligent (failing to act), impotent (unable to act effectively), or oblivious (not even noticing the responsibility to act).


The word apathy, and its adjective form apathetic are frequently used to describe situations where observers of an event lack the motivation to be involved.

Torpid is a more passive situation of lacking the ability to act, not by its own volition. Whereas, apathy implies an active choice to stay in a demotivated state and inaction.

ap·a·thet·ic (p-thtk) also ap·a·thet·i·cal (--kl)

  1. Feeling or showing a lack of interest or concern; indifferent.
  2. Feeling or showing little or no emotion; unresponsive.

[From apathy, on the model of pathetic.]

apa·theti·cal·ly adv.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

torpid (ˈtɔːpɪd)

  1. apathetic, sluggish, or lethargic
  2. (Zoology) (of a hibernating animal) dormant; having greatly reduced metabolic activity
  3. unable to move or feel

[C17: from Latin torpidus, from torpēre to be numb, motionless]
torˈpidity n ˈtorpidly adv

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

  • Tawpid doesn’t much sense. Surely you mean /ˈtoɹpɨd/.
    – tchrist
    Jun 23, 2014 at 2:32

lol·ly·gag verb \ˈlä-lē-ˌgag\

: to spend time doing things that are not useful or serious : to fool around and waste time

From that word you get lollygagger.

There is also free rider, who is someone who reaps the benefits of something without contributing to it, like someone who benefits from union negotiations, but doesn't pay union dues.

A looky-loo is someone who hangs around an accident scene just to watch.


Other than husband, you mean? :)

How about fence-sitter? This person will not take sides.



  1. Unsure of how to act or proceed; undecided.
  2. Lacking in resolution; indecisive.
  • Per meta.english.stackexchange.com/a/364 for the use–mention distinction, please use an italic face not a bold one. It makes the page look too heavy otherwise, and furthermore runs counter to typographic convention both on this site and in scholarly works. Please also cite your exact source by name instead of making people chase the link to figure out whom you’re citing, and seriously consider adding something more substantial and of your own devising than a straight paste from some crowd-sourced webbly thingabob.
    – tchrist
    Jun 23, 2014 at 2:38

I would suggest bystander (by·stand·er), or even onlooker. I would also use gawker.

However, it depends on the event taking place.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.