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Many Cultures Still Don't Have a Word for Boredom

Science writer Winifred Gallagher argues that what we call boredom (which she defines as "the unpleasant sense that there is nothing that interests you"), is largely a recent problem that still doesn't exist in many places around the globe. She writes:

Situations that would strike us as unbearably dull, say, waiting for hours or even days for a bus, are considered just the way life is in many developing countries. Anthropologist Henry Harpending has done extensive fieldwork in the back country of [Africa], where in most ways, he says, "folks are just like you and me. But one thing that the Westerners that go there just can't understand and are open-mouthed about is the people's tolerance for tedium. They can just sit all day under the trees …." [Harpending] is fluent in Bushman and he has tried for twenty years to elicit a word for boredom, but the closest he has gotten is the unsatisfactory [word for] tired.

Gallagher also adds, "[In the English language] boredom has no derivation: That is, it doesn't come from any other word but was specially created. Moreover, the word didn't appear in English until the later eighteenth century."

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