I was listening to some gentle, slow, emotionally warm music by Aaron Copland, and I thought of the word "languid" to describe it. But I wasn't sure of what languid means, so I looked it up, and it mostly means lethargic, lazy, lacking energy, and other somewhat negative associations. It also can mean "slow" but that was almost the only neutral synonym.

This music on the other hand is relaxed in a delicious way. It's "low-energy" in the best sense: like a slow massage.

In fact, the word "languid" is onomatopoeic, at least with respect to this music. It feels like I'm savoring the syllables as I say it. It doesn't "sound" like bored and lazy to me.

Then I looked up "languorous" and it has mostly negative connotations as well, like "depressed." Although one example sentence was "languorous cats lying around in the sun" which would fit this music, assuming the cats are enjoying themselves.

So I am wondering if "languid" can be used in this positive sense I want to give it, or if there would be a similar word that can.

  • Yeah, something I've found is that the terms you often think of to describe music (especially of the "mellow" variety) have, when you look them up, "official" definitions that are fairly negative in connotation. I think that may say more about the language (and those who choose "official" definitions) than it says about the music. – Hot Licks May 27 '16 at 11:50
  • Yes, I think some elements of our culture here in the U.S. assume you are getting ahead fast if you "work hard and play hard" and less value is placed on grace and de-stressing, so that might reflect in the official definitions. – composerMike May 27 '16 at 17:34
  • If you were to say relaxed and languid it would convey the meaning a bit further. – RemarkLima May 27 '16 at 19:32
  • This music is fascinating to me and deeply absorbing--it's languid quality makes it so. I don't like the word "relaxed" in association with music because it misses the quality of active listening. But maybe that's just me. – composerMike May 28 '16 at 2:03

Yes, languid can be used in a positive sense, but not in the world of work, striving to get ahead and multi-tasking. Nor is languid positive if you want six-pack abs or to climb Everest. However, a skier so expert as to seem to expend no effort might be described as having an "almost languid grace". Languid is for long summer days; languid can also be used for music, as the OP said -- see example sentence with link below.

For a positive usage of languid from a first-rate author, see Typee by Herman Melville. (A longer excerpt is given here.)

What a delightful, lazy, languid time we had whilst we were thus gliding along

Languid in Oxford Dictionaries

(Of a person, manner, or gesture) displaying or having a disinclination for physical exertion or effort; slow and relaxed:

"they turned with languid movements from back to front so as to tan evenly"

"But listen hard and you'll hear an attention to detail belied by the languid grace of Le Fumeur de Ciel" (Link added)

"'Good man,’ commented Robert, still training the barrel on the man with a languid manner"

Synonyms: relaxed, unhurried, languorous, slow; listless, lethargic, sluggish, lazy, idle, indolent, apathetic informal, laid-back (Synonyms with the positive sense the OP wants emphasized)

(Of an occasion or period of time) pleasantly lazy and peaceful:

"Summer's here… and it's time for those long, lazy, languid days, filled with nothing more demanding than cool dips in the pool, cooler drinks and perhaps some daydreaming."

Synonyms: leisurely, languorous, relaxed, restful, lazy (Emphasis given to positive synonyms)

  • Thanks for the thorough and well-written reply. I don't have the reputation to show I've upvoted you yet. But several good examples of languid movement; music moves and the way this Copland piece morphs from chord to chord reminds me of those tanners rotating from back to front. – composerMike May 28 '16 at 1:58
  • composerMike Glad to be of help. It was fun to do the research. When/If you get an answer you like enough to accept, you can click on the checkmark undeneath the downward pointing arrow to the left of the answer – ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow May 28 '16 at 10:15

Languid, to me, has always meant relaxed or unhurried. Apparently this meaning is more common in British English compared to American English.

LanguidCambridge Dictionary

British English

(adjective) moving or speaking slowly with little energy, often in an attractive way
"a languid manner/voice"

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