12

Concept

What is the word for someone who has no responsibility? I am meaning a situation where someone lacks anything to be responsible for.

Adjusting Google/Oxfords' meaning of "responsibility" to try and make the concept more clear: The state or fact of having no duty to deal with anything or of having no control over anyone.

Specifically, I am looking for an adjective that describes a person. Like responsibility, it should reflect one's duty or state, not one's desire. But unlike responsibility, it should not imply a moral obligation nor a lack thereof.


Example Usage

Example sentences using a phrase:

  • "The baby, previously lacking anything to be responsible for, finally set their heart on locomotion: the art of flailing limbs and sliding belly to move across the plush carpet.
  • "His body finally able to rest, the industrial man becomes the man that now lacks anything to be responsible for."

With a made up word "aresponsible":

  • "The once aresponsible baby finally set their heart on locomotion: the art of flailing limbs and sliding belly to move across the plush carpet."
  • "His body finally able to rest, the industrial man becomes the aresponsible man."

Antonyms Tried

While checking Cambridge's Thesaurus for antonyms "be responsible for" gave no results, "be responsible" only gave the word "innocent". Innocent seems to mean a lack of knowledge or a state of being wrongfully accused. Innocent does not convey my idea properly. A lack of responsibilities can be known or not known and has nothing to do with accusations.

Another common suggestion is "irresponsible", from wiktionary.org's antonym list for example, but it comes with the assumption that responsibility is being neglected or there is a lack of ability to handle responsibility. Someone without responsibility could very well be aware and capable of it, but not have any and may never be obligated, expected, or assigned any in the future. This does not mean they are an irresponsible person.


I will try to source to the best of my ability:

(Wikitionary 8/13/2021)

(Original Google/Oxfords' definition of responsibility, "The state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone." 8/13/2021)

6
  • 2
    This lack doesn't surprise me, as people are generally weak on the subject of responsibility and often conflate the term with "culpable." Aug 14 '21 at 7:41
  • Wiktionary and some other online sources have "dutiless" or "dutyless" but it doesn't seem to have made it into the dictionaries I consulted. Nonetheless, the meaning is fairly obvious (although it could refer to tariffs in another context).
    – Stuart F
    Aug 14 '21 at 16:15
  • 2
    I don't think you're going to find a single English word that accurately conveys the state of both an infant and an active retiree. Aug 14 '21 at 18:03
  • 1: spoon fed, 2: either empty nester or deceased. There's no single word, but there's a joke about walking on four legs, two legs, and then three legs. How about: Anti-social? Republican? Enlightened? Preadolescent? Trust-fund baby? My personal favorite is IDGAF.
    – Mazura
    Aug 14 '21 at 23:39
  • 2
    If one were to consider a responsibility a burden, you could label this person as "Unencumbered".
    – nocarrier
    Aug 16 '21 at 17:44

12 Answers 12

14

carefree

ADJECTIVE
Free from anxiety or responsibility.
‘the carefree days of summer’ Lexico

carefreeness

The trait of being without worry or responsibility vocabulary.com

But for most of us carefree living is taking no responsibilities and an escape from the world itself. ref.

Childhood is idealized as a carefree period—no responsibilities, no worries about calories. ref.

She had been eighteen, no age at all really, but though they had both been delighted at the thought of parenthood, carefreeness had flown out the window. ref.

You could refer to a carefree state/existence, or the state/condition of being carefree if that works better than carefreeness.

9
  • 1
    I had never heard the word carefreeness before, and it produced zero results on Ngram. Aug 14 '21 at 18:02
  • I saw a graph there when I tried it just now, and it's in The New Oxford American Dictionary under carefree
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 14 '21 at 18:11
  • Bizarre; I just searched, and it came back with zero. Wonder if there was just a server glitch. Aug 14 '21 at 18:20
  • And you think “carefreeness” is English usage?
    – David
    Aug 15 '21 at 16:43
  • 1
    @David Are you asking me? The OP was looking for an adjective, and in suggesting one, I pointed out that it also has a noun form. I also found it awkward, which is why I suggested alternatives if the OP does as well and needs a noun. As for usage, I didn't put it in an Oxford dictionary -- ask them.
    – DjinTonic
    Aug 15 '21 at 16:59
11

For completeness, a very specific term in government is: minister without portfolio.

Most government ministers have responsibility for a government ministry or department or other office (known as their ‘portfolio’).  But a politician can be given a ministerial salary and participation in cabinet meetings and decisions without that specific responsibility, by appointing them minister without portfolio.  This may be because they hold a non-government position (such as party chairman), or have an area of responsibility not aligned with the existing structures, or simply because the head of government values their participation at that level.

7
  • 5
    And while we're adding related words, there's sinecure: a job position with no responsibilities (or only trivial ones) that still gets full benefits. More general than "minister without portfolio", still not applicable to the baby in the example. (Although now I'm imagining some embittered soul describing a baby's existence as a sinecure...) Aug 15 '21 at 3:05
  • “without portfolio” was my first thought from the question title, but reading the question body, it doesn’t seem to fit the asker’s intention at all.
    – PLL
    Aug 15 '21 at 10:33
  • It would appear that you posted your answer first. If so I didn’t see it when posting mine. I’ve withdrawn it.
    – David
    Aug 15 '21 at 16:45
  • 1
    "Baby without portfolio" is a good phrase. Aug 15 '21 at 20:27
  • This is not common US usage Aug 16 '21 at 19:08
5

I'd go for "footloose". It literally means "unshackled", but - according to Etymonline.com - it has meant "free to act as one pleases" since 1873.

If that feels a bit informal, you might try "unengaged". It can mean "currently without a job", though (on the downside) it could also suggest "detached" in a disparaging sense.

Yes, it's interesting, isn't it? I kept feeling that the answer to your question was obvious, that it was on the tip of my tongue; but nothing really satisfying ever arrived. It definitely feels like we should have a word for it, but even a word like "insouciant", which literally means what you're asking for, has taken on that rather dismissive feeling, as if to describe someone as being "without responsibilities" is a criticism.

3

Floater

As in, somebody within an organization who does not have a fixed assignment. Rather, their skills are deployed as and where they are needed (e.g. paraprofessional aides who move between classrooms).

1
  • Alternatively (and similar to @gidds answer of "without portfolio"), one could use the qualifier "at large." For instance, many professional bodies have an elected position called "member at large"." Aug 14 '21 at 15:26
2

Unaccountable 2. (of a person, organization, or institution) not required or expected to justify actions or decisions; not responsible for results or consequences.

"there are enormous risks in leaving such agencies uncontrolled and unaccountable"

(definition from Google)

Unburdened, Unencumbered or unfettered first came to mind, but I feel like these words imply a being released from some obligation.

Thank you for the interesting question!

4
  • I'm not sure that "unaccountable" works here. There are many company bosses who have plenty of responsiblity but who are accountable to no one but themselves. Aug 14 '21 at 18:58
  • @KillingTime: It's an oddity of English. "Responsible", "accountable", "answerable" all ought to mean the same thing: "required to respond/account/answer to [an authority]". But "responsibility" (and not the others) can be used for things you're "supposed" to do even if no-one's checking on you. Having a duty to oneself (as you say), or maybe to a notion of what's right. Aug 15 '21 at 2:58
  • I don't know that I agree that "unburdened" etc. imply "being released from some obligation" (one that was there before and now isn't). The matching verbs ("to unburden" etc.) do mean that, but I wouldn't see anything wrong with saying that someone/something is "unburdened" by things that limit others, but have never applied to them. Aug 15 '21 at 3:01
  • 1
    "unfettered" is the word that came to my mind as well.
    – Barmar
    Aug 16 '21 at 14:55
1

Elements of Innocent

  1. a pure, guileless, or naive person. "a young innocent abroad"
  2. a person involved by chance in a situation, especially a victim of crime or war. "they are prepared to kill or maim innocents in pursuit of a cause"
1

At leisure

From MacMillan, at leisure: free to do what you want.

1
  • Could you provide references? It will improve your answer.
    – fev
    Aug 15 '21 at 12:00
1

Supernumerary

One definition is "Not wanted or needed; redundant".

For example (Cambridge dictionary, quoting Hansard) "The view is also held in certain places that there is a large number of supernumeraries in the administration who ought not to be there at all.

3
  • It's a fun word that I hadn't seen before, but I'm not sure it applies. From the examples I'm seeing, the supernumeraries still have responsibilities. They just collectively have fewer responsibilities than they could reasonably handle. So you could fire some of them and the job would still get done, but until you do they're still expected to perform their (small) share of the work.
    – MichaelS
    Aug 17 '21 at 0:04
  • I've certainly seen it used in precisely this sense, but it's possible it's localised, for example to the British Civil Service or armed forces. It may also have dropped out of use, I don't know. Aug 18 '21 at 9:21
  • Here's an example from 2019: nmc.org.uk/… Aug 23 '21 at 7:31
0

Merriam-Webster gives:

sinecurist (noun): one who has a sinecure

Where sinecure is:

sinecure (noun): an office or position that requires little or no work and that usually provides an income

1
  • 1
    My question was more about the state of having no responsibility, not being in a position or state in which no responsibility is assigned. No assignment of responsibility could lead to a state of no responsibility, but a sinecurist could also be a part time coal miner.
    – UpTide
    Aug 13 '21 at 19:18
0

Spare resources.

In a business context, employees and their time are resources. Often, businesses don't want 100% resource utilization, since that doesn't give any slack in case someone gets sick, goes on vacation, or is otherwise unavailable. As such, the employees who don't have any tasks currently assigned to them can be said to be spare resources.

Of course, this is a noun phrase, not an adjective that describes a noun. "Bob is sick today. What spare resources do we have?"

0

Not in charge.

Person who isn't in charge for something ( responsible ) isn't irresponsible, but rather not assigned to the duty.

1
  • 1
    Typically this means "not in command". People not in charge still have responsibilities they're charged with. I'm struggling to come up with a sentence where being not in charge implies having no duties. Can you provide an example?
    – MichaelS
    Aug 17 '21 at 0:08
0

Drone

Merriam Webster second definition " one that lives on the labors of others : PARASITE"

Based on bees, the drones are male bees who do not gather nectar but are there purely to mate Wikipedia Drone(bee)

As used by P G Wodehouse in the Jeeves and Wooster books to describe the wealthy young men who did not work but lived off inherited money.

For OP's second example - "His body finally able to rest, the industrial man becomes a drone"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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