Inertia as the force of inactivity

This is a philosophical one. I happened to look up the definition of inertia. I had thought it meant something like continuing doing what one has been doing, like a passive continuation of the route one is traveling once started on that route.

Playing golf on a frosty bentgrass green on a beautiful late autumn morning.
Playing golf on a frosty bentgrass green on a beautiful late autumn morning.

I was surprised to find that inertia can be a force itself. This is a usage example in the OED:1

Inactivity may be considered..as that quality by which it resists any such change. In this..sense it is usually called the force of inactivity, the inertia, or the vis inertiae.

Inertia can also be defined as “disinclination to act.”

I was struck by that because there is some inertia in the turf industry, isn’t there? Inertia to keep doing things the same way. But could that inertia sometimes be misguided?

One example is the habitual over-application of fertilizer to professionally-managed turfgrass. Think of BCSR, for which there is all kinds of inertia, or the customary practice of applying 200% more K than the grass can possibly use.

Another example is punching holes in the ground. For the purpose of decompaction, sure. But beyond that, I’m not nearly so confident as I used to be that the activity of venting or coring actually accomplish much.

There’s herbicide resistance, and the inertia to continue using the same products when resistance has already developed.

Frost delays.

Dormant fertilization with massive amounts of N in autumn, when the grass can’t use that much N until the following summer, and applying N in large doses increases the risk of pollution, with that risk amplified by the timing of application just before winter.

There will be a ton of other examples of inertia in turf management. This is preaching to the choir, because I know most of you who read my blog are quick to make changes in the way you manage the turf based on continuous learning and evaluation.

Anyway, it made me feel better one Monday to discover that inertia is actually a force of inactivity. It’s not just inactivity itself, but the force keeping things from changing.


  1. From James Wood’s The principles of mechanics 3rd edition (1803). ↩︎

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