In a comment following the recent post about India, Shoreacres wrote:
I made the effort to check before posting, and as far as I can tell there’s no connection at all between “indolent” and the various “Indo-” forms you’ve posted here and in your previous post.
Still, it’s intriguing that for so many centuries, peoples of India, certain island-dwellers and the Indians of North America all have been described as “indolent”.
I would be indolent indeed if I didn’t follow up on the word indolente/indolent, in which the in- is not part of the root, as it is in India, but is the familiar negative prefix used in Latin and in so many words that Spanish and English have acquired from Latin. The Latin source was indolens, with stem indolent-, from the verb dolere ‘to feel pain’ that has become Spanish doler. It’s clear, then, that the original meaning of indolent- was ‘not causing pain, painless,’ and that’s the sense the word first had in English as well. As a medical term, indolent retains that sense and can also mean ‘slow to develop’ and ‘slow to heal,’ presumably because a tumor that develops slowly doesn’t usually cause pain.
From the idea of not causing pain came the notion of avoiding pain or suffering by taking things easy, and so indolent developed the sense ‘avoiding labor and exertion’ and then ‘inactive,’ ‘habitually idle,’ and finally ‘lazy.’ Spanish indolente has undergone the same development and shares the set of meanings present in its English counterpart.
English once used dolent to mean ‘sorrowful,’ but that’s obsolete. In contrast, the Spanish adjective doliente is alive, and its meanings include ‘feeling pain, suffering, ill.’
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman