Source: Lexico Dictionary

  1. Languish:

Definition: to suffer from being forced to remain in an unpleasant place or situation; to exist in an unpleasant or unwanted situation, often for a long time:

Examples : "he has been languishing in jail since 1974"

After languishing in obscurity for many years, her early novels have recently been rediscovered.

  1. Mire

Definition: to involve someone or something in (a difficult situation); to cause someone or an activity to become trapped in a difficult situation:

Example: "the economy is mired in its longest recession since the war"

At the time the country was mired in the Great Depression.

Both terms convey the sense of "being involved or trapped in an unpleasant situation for a long time"

However my gut tells me there is a nuanced distinction between the two terms.

  • The literal meaning of mired is 'covered in mud' or 'stuck in deep mud'; does that give you the nuance? Jun 1, 2022 at 8:13
  • I'm beginning to see an element of movement. By that, I mean this: languish is used in situations where a person is trapped and restrained, unable to make any progress. On the other hand, mire is for things or people currently on the move towards progress, albeit at a slow rate because something or someone is slowing the subject down. Jun 1, 2022 at 11:23
  • Addendum: I'm starting to see an element of "wasting away or becoming unwell during long periods of entrapment" associated with languish. As for mire, I definitely see a sense of metaphorically being stuck in an endless mudpit/hole that seeks to keep you trapped at the bottom, regardless of how much effort and energy you put towards freeing yourself from said pit. Jun 1, 2022 at 11:32
  • Your second comment is more accurate. Languish doesn't have the specific meaning of being trapped or imprisoned, just of growing weak. Jun 1, 2022 at 12:06

1 Answer 1


"Languish" involves a slow decaying, "wasting away." It's been used a lot during the pandemic to describe the feeling of almost "giving up" on getting anything productive done. It could be used, as in your example to describe someone stuck in prison over time, but one could also say, "Although sentenced to twenty years for a crime he didn't commit, John Jones didn't languish in jail. He spent his time fighting for a new trial while somehow managing to complete a master's degree. He even began a correspondence that led to his marriage. Here are a couple of other examples:

Joe hasn't been thriving since he graduated. In fact, after getting a couple of job rejections, he's been languishing. Staying home mostly, not socializing. He might be depressed.

Barbara gave Jill a houseplant for her birthday. The plant was healthy when she got it, but has been languishing. Jill often forgets to water it, or give it enough sunlight.

To be mired in something, is to use an idiom a different kettle of fish! It means to be involved in something -- usually something negative that one is stuck in and unable to move away from -- and to be as we might say, in the thick of it. Here are some examples:

I would stay away from that company. They've been mired in scandal for years.

The film has been mired in controversy since it opened. It was supposed to be based on true events, but the people involved in the real story are suing, claiming they've been defamed by it.

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