As a non native speaker, I thought that the words world weary referred to someone who carries the world on his/her shoulder or someone who wears/puts on the world. Then I noticed that the word weary has a different meaning. Is there any relationship between wear and weary in this context? Is there anyone who is able to explain the etymology of this phrase?


I always thought the usage world-weary was derived from the story of Atlas. Atlas is described as Atlas Telamon (Atlas the Enduring) and also as "The world-weary Atlas" when Hercules encounters him during his quest for The Apples of the Hesperides.(I couldn't find the Homeric greek for "the world-weary Atlas.")

  • It's a nice visualization, and may indeed be the source of the phrase, but I doubt the Greek etymology for the words "to wear" and "weary" is any closer than the English. The query seems to imply the words themselves are related. – user13141 Sep 22 '11 at 7:36
  • You're right, the two words are distinct. Maybe I was taking the question too literally- OP asks if there is a relation between wear and weary "in this context*. – Autoresponder Sep 22 '11 at 7:41
  • @onomatomaniak : I'll be happy to post my reply as a comment if that will be better. – Autoresponder Sep 22 '11 at 7:49
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    This is exactly what I meant, but I could not remember the example of Atlas. I am glad that you mentioned about it. So in this context, there is a relationship :) – miraz Sep 22 '11 at 19:09

Though the words look similar, they are not related in the way you'd thought. Their pronunciations are different, too.

To wear is pronounced [wair] and is derived from O.E. werian, meaning "to clothe, put on".

Weary is pronounced [weer-ee] and comes from O.E. werig, meaning "tired".

World-weary has nothing to do, literally, with the act of wearing or carrying anything; as a mnemonic device, though, that may be a helpful way to think of it.


In the words of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), ‘world-weary’ means ‘Weary of the world; feeling or indicating feelings of weariness, boredom, or cynicism as a result of long experience of life.’ Its first recorded use is in 1750.

The ‘weary’ element takes its sense from the OED’s second main definition of the adjective: ‘Discontented at the continuance or continued recurrence of something, and desiring its cessation; having one's patience, tolerance, zeal, or energy exhausted; “sick and tired” of something.’

  • I am afraid something is missing in my question. I know the definition of the phrase, however I am looking for a relationship between wear and weary. It seemed to me that a world weary person could be someone who carried the world, so that could be reason why she is unhappy about the life. – miraz Sep 22 '11 at 7:03
  • No, I don’t think that’s it. As I said, it derives from ‘weary’ meaning ‘discontented’, etc. Nothing to do with ‘wear’ as in ‘wearing clothes’. That has a quite different etymology. – Barrie England Sep 22 '11 at 7:22

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