• A state of being almost or totally devoid of energy or motivation
  • A deep, energy-saving sleep pattern in animals, similar to hibernation.


Physical and mental energy in people has a natural ebb and flow, and learning to negotiate the pendulum swings between the two is a part of everyday life. Sometimes we are brimming with such vigor that we feel like we can take on the world, while at other times we are so utterly exhausted that the only appealing option is to marathon our favorite show and put the world and its cares out of our minds. While the latter lethargic torpor can be frustrating when we otherwise wanted to accomplish a lot, it's best to appreciate it as the balance to the high-octane alternative that it is.

Torpor is the state of having little to no desire or reserve of strength to do anything. While laziness is more the reluctance to engage in any demanding activity, torpor is the (usually temporary) lack of brainpower or muscle power to even attempt it. In this sense, on the spectrum from unmotivated and exhausted to energized and absolutely zealous, it sits squarely at the former end. Torpor can also mean lack of inspiration to do something, as laziness or apathy does. As the term refers to the absence of energy or motivation to do something, torpor is generally a trait unique to living things.

In the field of biology, torpor is a scientific term to describe a type of sleep that, though not as profound as hibernation, is still deeper than that of the normal daily sleep cycle. Like hibernation, it is meant as a way to conserve energy. While it relates to the general usage to indicate the sense of inactivity, in biology, torpor is not really a deficit of energy but a more efficient using of it.

Example: His torpor after the ample meal was so acute that he didn't even bother to get up from the table, but slumped in his chair.

Example: The bat went into a torpor to save energy before its evening hunt.


The word torpor, in its primary sense, came to English from the Latin verb torpere, meaning "to be numb" or "to be sluggish." This was then adapted into the Latin torpor, which meant "numbness or sluggishness." The term then entered Late Middle English in the early 17th century, keeping the same spelling.

Derivative Words

Torpid: This adjective describes something that is inactive or unmotivated, but it can also characterize something that is literally in deep sleep.

Example: She had forgotten her morning coffee, so by the time she got home from work, she was completely torpid.

Torpidity: Torpidity is a noun that, like torpor, captures the state of being listless and apathetic.

Example: As much as he tried to stay engaged, he had slipped into a mild torpidity by the third hour of the opera.

Torpidness: This noun serves roughly the same function as torpidity, though is somewhat less common.

Example: He sat in the back of the lecture hall to hide his torpidness during class.

Torporific: Unlike other adjective derivatives of torpor, torporific does not mean having a languid state but, as with the adjective sense of word soporific, causing one.

Example: The presenter's pitch at the sales meeting was so torporific that nobody had any comments or questions when he concluded.

In Literature

From Ian McEwan's Atonement:

It wasn't torpor that kept her - she was often restless to the point of irritability. She simply liked to feel that she was prevented from leaving, that she was needed.

In this passage, McEwan clarifies that the reason for the character's disinclination to leave the house was not lack of energy, or torpor, as, ironically, she had more than she could manage. Instead she stayed in so she could realize her desire to be needed.


  • Torpor is the opposite of the energy of a torpedo.
  • A state of torpor is tepid toward doing anything.



Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of torpor. Did you use torpor in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.