The original French word Ennui, means general lack of interest, boredom or depression. It may also refer to oppressive boredom. It refers to a state of being rather than a passing mood as is generally the case with “boredom”.
The history of this word is long and quite tangled. It started out in Latin, as mihi in odio est, which means, more or less, “I dislike.” In later Vulgar Latin, the phrase was corrupted into inodiare, “to make odious,” which was borrowed by the French for ennuyer, “to annoy or bore.” In the 13th century, the English picked up the word, turning into “annoy,” while it evolved into ennui in French, for boredom. Members of the 17th century English nobility started using the new French word to describe their state of dissatisfaction in polite company, and it has been used ever since.
Ennui can take a number of forms. Among the 17th century leisure classes, for example, women often complained of ennui because of the stifling lives they led. Restricted to only a few approved activities, many noblewomen found themselves deeply dissatisfied with their lot in life, complaining of ennui to friends and neighbors, many of whom were in the same plight.
Many people attribute ennui to members of the upper classes, while using “boredom” to describe the same state among people in the lower classes, perhaps because “ennui” sounds more cultivated. The term is also used among members of the artistic community. Musicians and other performers are sometimes described as being in a state of ennui brought about by disinterest in their fame and followers, for example, while artists may complain of a state of ennui which is impacting the quality of their work.
You can safely use “boredom” and “ennui” more or less interchangeably, should you so desire. “Ennui” certainly sounds more respectable; you might choose “ennui” to describe the experience of sitting in a dull lecture, for example, while sticking to “boredom” for days spent sitting at home.
For the ennui balloon tee,
Can there be any doubt that of all the words and phrases which have made their way down to us from Old French, that one of its greatest, most prescient, linguistic contribution is a 5 letter word which manages, in spite of its diminutive size, to neatly sum up the million heavy, wretched, laborious, plodding, suffocating, life-force-sapping, woebegone pangs which constitute a day in the life?
Ennui n. <ân’wE> A feeling of weariness and disgust; dullness and languor of spirits, arising from satiety or want of interest; tedium.
Ah, yes, you noble word, saving us the added tiresome indignity of having to string together an endless array of other, less capable, words when pressed for explanations. Dispirited and beaten-down though we are, I think it would be downright rude of us not to celebrate this word somehow, in recognition of its marvelous utility and tireless, dedicated service.
the ennui it induces mirrors the ennui it describes; the tedium of the reader mimics the tedium that prevails in the “poisonous book” she reads. One difference, though, distinguishes the boredom of Dorian Gray’s readers, from the boredom of its characters: as often as ours goes without saying, theirs is a matter deemed worthy of remark; if boredom with the novel is rarely inclined to speak its name, the boredom within it never loses its voice. What another expert in ennui calls “too sad to be told” is a chronic complaint in The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Listening to these voices, we may well wonder how anyone so absorbed by ennui has the energy to mention it with such elan, wonder how anyone who suffers so is capable of stifling a yawn long enough to say it so well. For surely, if only slightly, such exertions of expressiveness contradict the state they describe: Behind the elegant aspect of knowingness that boredom wears in and beyond The Picture of Dorian Gray, the prosaic condition of bodily fatigue lurks like a lingering disease. Dandies like Oscar Wilde may have fashioned sophistication’s signature style out of the cloth of ennui, but they did nothing to sever its attachment to the drabbest material of daily life, nothing to separate the been-there-done-that fatigue of the blase attitude from the basic grey matter of being tired.
Even when he is suited in ennui’s most elegant attire, the bored subject is still little more than a weary body at the end of the day: “There has not been a scandal in the neighbourhood since the time of Queen Elizabeth, and consequently they all fall asleep after dinner” (p. 136).
How do people write about ennui such?
how anyone so absorbed by ennui has the energy to mention it with such elan, wonder how anyone who suffers so is capable of stifling a yawn long enough to say it so well