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).
(Shouldn’t that be “tarditas et procrastinatio odiosae sunt”?) He discusses the (to me repugnant) concept “never put off till tomorrow what you can do today” and its analogues in various languages (“‘Morgen, Morgen, nur nicht heute,’ sagen alle faulen Leute”), pointing out that though the concept is ubiquitous, the word is not. And he mentions this wonderful feature of Egyptian:
Adherents to this view point to the evenhanded approach of the ancient Egyptian language, which had two verbs corresponding to procrastinate. One verb referred to the useful avoidance of unnecessary or impulsive efforts, and the other to the harmful shirking of tasks needed for subsistence, such as tilling the soil at just the right time during the Nile’s annual flood cycle.
Anybody know the actual word for “the useful avoidance of unnecessary or impulsive efforts”? Because that is the kind of procrastination I practice. Actually, though, I don’t so much procrastinate as perendinate, a wonderful word I learned from Ben’s article meaning “to put something off until the day after tomorrow.”