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Velleity

Pronounced /vɛˈliːɪtɪ/Help with pronunciation

This is mere inclination, a wish or desire that lacks the strength to overcome personal inertia. It is the ultimate inaction, far more so than procrastination, which is merely the postponement of action you know to be necessary. If you make a new year’s resolution to get fit but never even look into joining a gym, that’s velleity. If a notion to write a novel intrigues you, but you do nothing about it, that’s velleity.

Congress often contents itself with enacting “velleities” such as the wish in the 900-page Dodd-Frank financial reform act that “all consumers have access to markets for consumer financial products and services ... (that are) fair, transparent, and competitive.”

The Virginian-Pilot, 7 Jun. 2012.

If the wish is father to the deed then velleity is childless. It is the impotent relative of volition, using one’s will. Surprisingly for two near opposites, velleity and volition share an origin. Both are from the Latin irregular verb velle, to will or wish, though volition comes directly from volo, I wish. The English word benevolent is from the same verb, literally well-wishing.

You’ll not find it much used, as it’s restricted to those with large vocabularies or the readiness to browse the less travelled pages of dictionaries.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 17 Aug. 2013

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-vel3.htm
Last modified: 17 August 2013.