Writing near the beginning of the 20th century, American scholar Hardin Craig noted: “No man has a deeper respect for wifely admonition than I have. Knowing the pigritude of men as I do, I will go so far as to say that I think a good deal of what is called ‘nagging’ is justified and beneficial.” Because a wife’s nagging in this case is said to be justified, we can tell that pigritude is a negative quality, but which one? Most English dictionaries don’t even include the word, so we hazard a guess: could pigritude be piggishness? No, that would be too obvious. Besides, while pithy words like pig usually go back to Old English, we know that fancy words like similitud/similitude and exactitud/exactitude come from or are based on Latin. So we lop off the suffix -tude and look in a Latin dictionary, where we find that the adjective with stem pigr- meant ‘unwilling, reluctant, backward, slow, dull, lazy, indolent, sluggish, inactive.’ The matching abstract noun pigritia therefore meant ‘sloth, sluggishness, laziness,’ which are meanings that fit Hardin Craig’s comment. And the connection to Spanish in all this? It turns out that Latin pigritia evolved to Spanish pereza, which has the same meanings. For whatever reason, Spanish hasn’t inherited or reborrowed the original Latin adjective, so it has had to create a new one from pereza: the Spanish word for ‘lazy’ is perezoso. In various Spanish-speaking regions, a perezosa is ‘a type of chair’ in which a person can lie back, feel lazy, and even ponder the usefulness of a word like pigritude.
© 2010 Steven Schwartzman