I just used the word "pensive" to describe the feeling of a system administrator's state of mind while waiting for a long-running task to complete successfully, but I don't think that's the right word. I am trying to describe the feeling of waiting for the results of a task; a feeling of anxious anticipation, hoping things will work out for the best but planning one's next move in case things don't turn out as one had planned. Is there a better word than "pensive"?

EDIT: I am questioning my word choice because Merriam Webster defines pensive as:

suggestive of sad thoughtfulness

and sadness isn't part of the emotion I'm trying to convey.

  • 2
    The Oxford English Dictionary definition is quite different: "engaged in , involving, or reflecting deep or serious thought".
    – UpTheCreek
    Jan 11, 2011 at 12:57
  • Pensive implies dreaminess and/or deep thinking, which can include a feeling of sadness but isn't necessary. You kind of skipped the first definition on Merriam Webster...
    – Mdev
    Jul 31, 2015 at 21:13

8 Answers 8



I guess it helps to clarify that there's both a bit of "the worst could happen right now and that would suck" and there's a bit of "ok, it's going to be fine, what's the next thing I need to do so I'm prepared"

  • This is a better choice than pensive. (See my comments on Adam Davis's answer for why I wouldn't use pensive.)
    – John Y
    Jan 11, 2011 at 0:52

"Anxious" itself seems better. A state of anxiety often suggests a mind racing with the scenarios of possible outcomes.

The phrase, "with bated breath" also comes to mind, as it combines the act of waiting with a feeling of anxiousness, though it does not suggest any sort of planning for contingencies.

  • 4
    +1 for avoiding the eggcorn baited breath :-)
    – PLL
    Jan 11, 2011 at 6:33

I think "Apprehensive" implies pessimism about the results and "Anxious" implies a result that could be good or bad and you'd like to find out very soon.

  • As a sysadmin we are pessimistic that it's going to work if we've never seen it happen before (and particularly so in this situation, I having been privy to part of the surrounding conversation off the Meta.SO chat)
    – jcolebrand
    Jan 11, 2011 at 5:42

I guess it depends on the system administrator. Some expect for everything to go right and cuss when things go awry, others plan for the worst and are pleasantly surprised when anything works as it is supposed to work.

For the grizzled system administrator who has seen everything, I would go for expectantly, since that sysadmin probably has a good idea what output he/she expects to see, and is simply performing the steps he/she needs to do to get there.

For the egotistical, self-centered system administrator, I'd go for triumphantly or defiantly, as if he/she is self-assured that everything is correct, but is daring the computer to throw an error his/her way.


Pensive is a great word to describe that state.

  • Ok, thanks! I though pensive implied sadness which isn't correct here.
    – Josh
    Jan 11, 2011 at 0:29
  • 2
    It implies anxiety, which some associate with negative feelings, and so there are those that think of it as sadness, or "soon to be sadness" but technically it's meant only to imply fixed thought on the outcome of a situation now outside one's control.
    – Adam Davis
    Jan 11, 2011 at 0:33
  • 5
    I disagree. Even if you generalize the sadness to "negative feelings" (which I wouldn't), there's still the matter of thoughtfulness. M-W's other definition is "musingly or dreamily; thoughtful". Someone who's pensive is a bit lost in thought, not specifically focused, as the sysadmin is. Anyone who's mission-oriented enough to be making contingency plans is also not on my candidate list for pensive.
    – John Y
    Jan 11, 2011 at 0:52
  • 2
    @John Y: also agree. I don't think pensive is the right mood for this.
    – Jimi Oke
    Jan 11, 2011 at 1:48

Expectantly perhaps? Pensive is not quite correct.


I agree that pensive definitely doesn't fit here. Pensiveness is thinking, actively trying to puzzle something out. To me it connotes calm more than sadness, but I can agree with the sadness description partially. I mean, it is the dictionary at all.

Apprehensive and anxious might deliver the goods, as have been suggested. The word that struck me when reading your description is 'uncomfortable' or maybe uncomfortable concern. You're not really sure how to feel but you can't just not think about it.


I vote solicitous

from wiktionary

From Latin sōlicitus, alternative spelling of sollicitus (“thoroughly disturbed; anxious”).

solicitous (comparative more solicitous, superlative most solicitous)

Disposed to solicit; eager to obtain something desirable, or to avoid anything evil; concerned; anxious; careful.

Solicitous of my reputation. -John Dryden.

He was solicitous for his advice. -Edward Hyde Clarendon.

Enjoy the present, whatsoever it be, and be not solicitous about the future. - Jeremy Taylor.

The colonel had been intent upon other things, and not enough solicitous to finish the fortifications. -Edward Hyde Clarendon.

Anxious or concerned (usually followed by about, for, etc., or a clause): solicitous about a person's health.

  • solicitous, not solicitus
    – Jay
    Jan 11, 2011 at 16:04
  • @Jay: nice catch
    – sova
    Jan 11, 2011 at 16:05
  • I don't think this adjective is used without some sort of a complement (solicitous of/about/for), so I don't think it can replace pensive, which never does.
    – Merk
    Oct 18, 2012 at 7:07

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