Otium: Gardner’s mot juste

Gardner tossed me a nice one in his Oook’s on a roll posting:

I hope he won’t dawdle too long in his splendid New England otium.

Now, this is everything I love: a really obscure word (I knew and use ‘otiose’, which springs from the same root –in fact, I recently wrote a tune with the title Otiose Maggie, in remembrance of a goat of my acquaintance) that leads me to a spasm of searching and stringing together, and turns out to be absolutely spot on: le mot juste, as the French foppishly call it…

The fundamental sense of otium is

leisure, ease, peace

…and my Latin dictionary glosses otium as

leisure, free time, relaxation, freedom from public affairs, retirement, peace, quiet, ease, idleness, inactivity

. But the fun really begins when one Googles the word: a glassblowing site says

“Otium”, which literally means “to be at ease”, reflects their desire to create environments that soothe, comfort, and nurture the soul.

Yup, that’s retirement, sure enough. Gardner nails it.

As I’ve so often found in my role as a Reference Librarian, it’s the hunt that’s the real fun. You find gems like this:

Otium cum dignitatem

El ideal de “vida contemplativa” que proponían algunos de los filósofos antiguos se veía reflejado en lo que ellos denominaron “Otium cum dignitatem”, una forma de emplear nuestro tiempo de ocio que nos permita desarrollar nuevas sensibilidades, ampliar nuestros conocimientos, entrar en contacto con otras culturas o contemplar la belleza en sus diferentes formas de expresión.

My Spanish is, well, vestigial, so I accepted Google’s offer of translation and got this:

The ideal of “contemplativa life” which they proposed some of the old philosophers saw reflected in which they denominated “Otium cum dignitatem”, a form to use our time of leisure that allows to develop the new sensitivities us, to extend our knowledge, to make contact with other cultures or to contemplate the beauty in its different forms from expression.

I also found an article in German, translated from Italian, which succumbs howlingly to translated be by Google

Yeah. Worth the price of admission.

And on a homeschool site I found a Latin phrase not entirely irrelevant to the present:

Otium bello saepe non conservamus
‘We do not often preserve peace by war’

I see that the word has snuck into Scandinavian languages –in Swedish and Danish and Norwegian it seems to be a good solid word for ‘vacation’

And I found (among the few Google hits in English) a Christian Science Monitor article from 2002, Richard O’Mara In praise of otium that offers this delicious nugget:

There is an archaic idea hardly ever discussed these days. The Romans had a word for it: otium, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the aristocratic mode of leisure. Thinking,” or “dignified leisure,” “the otium of literary pursuits.”

Jeez but this is fun…