- Listlessness or weariness resulting from a lack of stimulation or a general sense of discontent
Ennui is perhaps best described as "sophisticated boredom." It refers to the lack of energy one feels as a result of some vague dissatisfaction with the world in general. What makes ennui notable is that it implies a sense of disillusionment ensuing from discontented intelligence or an unrealized potential; these heavy, dampening emotions weigh down thoughts and dull experiences, causing one to perceive an overall pointlessness in everyday life. It is often equated (though not always accurately) with a dawning sense of awareness or maturity; for this reason, ennui is considered chic or fashionable, sometimes even to the point of pretentiousness. Unlike, say, the regular old boredom that a ten-year-old might feel on a humid August afternoon from having no schoolwork to keep him occupied, ennui might be felt, say, by a fabulously wealthy aristocrat who has nothing to do all day except stare out windows and reflect on various progressive movements that never came to fruition. Ennui is a distinctly adult feeling, and it can variously connote either elegance and intellect or snobbish indolence.
One thing to note, though: even if you're feeling bored, don't let the plural of ennui lull you into a false sense of security! One might expect the plural of ennui to be ennuis (a valid French word), but this is not the case. In English, the word ennui is generally applied in a collective sense - rather than parceling out multiple individual ennui, multiple people will experience a group feeling of ennui. In French, however, the word ennuis refers to "troubles" or "worries." By adding the "s," you not only switch meanings, you also change to a different language altogether!
Example: Tom, unsatisfied with his high-paying yet tedious job, became gripped with a sense of ennui.
Example: "I never bother voting; the candidates are always the same," said Carrie with a yawn, making no effort to hide her ennui.
Ennui is directly borrowed from French, and as a result it retains its original French pronunciation. The word's origins date as far back as the thirteenth century; most likely, it was formed from the Old French term "enui," which means "annoyance." Its usage in English conversation started in the middle of the seventeenth century. Although Ennui had been fully assimilated into the English lexicon by the middle of the eighteenth century, it was especially popularized in the 1800s by an association with the disillusionment experienced by young Europeans amidst perceptions that the French Revolution had not lived up to its lofty ideals.
From Lord Byron's Don Juan (Canto 13):
For ennui is a growth of English root,
Though nameless in our language:—we retort
The fact for words, and let the French translate
That awful yawn which sleep can not abate.
Here, Byron is remarking that, although a French word is needed to express it, the feeling of world-weary lassitude known as ennui is quite common among the British.
- Ennui is weary boredom.
Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of ennui. Did you use ennui in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.