Not many people know the history or background of the word procrastination. We all know what the word means. Sometimes we let it control ourselves. Other times we just left it control daily activities that are planned. I read this article from and it is very interesting. I think it is interesting enough to share it with you. You can visit their web site for more articles on this topic since they did a special issue. Though this is not the entire article, only a portion, I'm sure you will gain extra knowledge from reading the history of this common, everyday term.


How we got a word for "putting things off."

By Ben Zimmer
Posted Wednesday, May 14, 2008, at 7:01 AM ET

Read more from Slate's special issue on procrastination.

Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer. Click image to expand.Pro·cras·ti·na·tion. How fitting that the word is lengthy and Latinate, taking its time to reach a conclusion. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson once wrote that procrastination is "really sloth in five syllables." And yet the word denotes so much more than mere sloth or indolence: A procrastinator meticulously organizing a sock drawer or an iTunes library can't exactly be accused of laziness. Likewise, procrastination is not simply the act of deferral or postponement. It implies an intentional avoidance of important tasks, putting off unpleasant responsibilities that one knows should be taken care of right away and setting them on the back burner for another day.

The promise of "another day" is the key to the word's origin. It derives from the Latin verb procrastinare, combining the prefix pro- "forward" with crastinus "of tomorrow"—hence, moving something forward from one day until the next. Even in ancient Roman times, procrastination was disparaged: The great statesman Cicero, in one of his Philippics attacking his rival Mark Antony, declaimed that "in the conduct of almost every affair slowness and procrastination are hateful" (in rebus gerendis tarditas et procrastinatio odiosa est).

When procrastinate and procrastination began appearing in English in the mid-16th century (a time when Latinisms were flooding the language, mostly via French), the words suggested the classical repugnance toward inaction at critical moments. But procrastination soon took on a dire new meaning: Christians used the term to remind sinners that postponing the repentance of one's wicked ways may lead to damnation. A 1553 sermon spoke of dire consequences for "he that doth prolong or procrastinate" the confession of sins, while a 1582 tract on "The Foolishness of Men" warned, "Take heed therefore, that by procrastinating repentance ... thou wittingly and of purpose, do not tempt the Lord."

With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, Christian moralism fused with commercial pursuits. Procrastination not only forestalled salvation in the next life but also the goal of financial well-being in this one. Thus the evils of procrastination worked their way into the oft-repeated adages of the new capitalist era. "Procrastination is the thief of time," wrote English poet Edward Young in 1742. A few years later, Philip Stanhope, the Earl of Chesterfield, penned the words: "No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination; never put off till tomorrow what you can do today." Ben Franklin is credited with a similar saying, mockingly transformed by Mark Twain into the procrastinator's motto, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow." (Those who follow Twain's wry advice don't just procrastinate, they perendinate, a useful word meaning "to put something off until the day after tomorrow.")


  • Hah, it takes too long to spell that word even. I think nowadays people procrastinate because of how much technology we already have, and the ease of getting most of what we want. I don't think people procrastinated much in the 18th century, especially not in China or the USA. I don't really know.

    Here is my new address:

    I'm changing my blog address because the other one contains my name.

  • I don't think I have ever sat down to spell out the word. It is often said more than hundred times, but I really do not write it out. I procrastinate all the time. In a way, procrastination is good for me and it could harm me in many ways.

  • Very interesting! American Idol is over now..!!

  • My family has a healthy history of procrastination, except for my mother, who crumbles under the pressure of any stranger and does most things instantly... unless it only involved her and her close family.

  • i agree, i nevert really had to spell the word when chatting with friends on the internet. I think the most related word to procrastinating in boredom, because we shouldn't be bored when there are millions of things we should be doing at that moment. What do you all think?