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The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, in which it refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The low pressure is caused by the expanding atmosphere due to heating at the equator, which makes the air rise and travel north and south high in the atmosphere, until it subsides again in the horse latitudes. Some of that air returns to the doldrums through the trade winds. This process can lead to light or variable winds and more severe weather, in the form of squalls, thunderstorms and hurricanes. The doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks. The term appears to have arisen in the 18th century, when cross-Equator sailing voyages became more common.
Colloquially, the "doldrums" are a state of inactivity, mild depression, listlessness or stagnation.
The doldrums are notably described in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, and in Patrick O'Brian's Desolation Island. Additionally, the Doldrums is a fictional place in Norton Juster's novel The Phantom Tollbooth.
- "Doldrums" on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary site
- Dictionary.com, based on the Random House Dictionary, Random House, Inc., 2011.