Printable Version
Pronunciation: ahn-wee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)

Meaning: A chronic mental listlessness and disengagement caused by boring interactions with the people, places and things around you.

Notes: Ennui is a special kind of boredom that attacks people who know and have experienced everything in life—or think they have. It is a member of a large group of words borrowed so recently from French that they retain the French spelling and pronunciation: naive, attach, aperitif, chic, risqu, to mention a few. (Apparently, there is nothing like ennui in the English-speaking world.) This word is so French that the adjective for it is also French: ennuy (ennuye if you are female) "bored out of your skull". You may use this noun as a verb if you mind your Is and Ys: ennuies, ennuied, ennuying [ahn-wee-ing].

In Play: Ennui is likely to attack the man or woman who has everything, and has done and seen everything: "Six months into retirement Jack Uzzi found the ennui unbearable and returned to his job as a parking meter attendant." Ennui is often the price of wealth: "Morris Bedda had 6 houses, 24 cars, two planes, a helicopter, a billion dollars, and more ennui than in all of France."

Word History: Today's Good Word started its life in ancient Rome as the Latin phrase mihi in odio est "I dislike" (literally "to me dissatisfaction is"). In Vulgar Latin, (which was not vulgar at all but just 'street' Latin) this phrase was squeezed into a verb, *inodiare "to make odious". Now, if you are a long-time subscriber, you know what French does with Latin words. Old French remolded the Latin verb into ennuyer and anoier, two spellings of the same verb meaning "to annoy or bore". Around 1275 Old English borrowed anoier as its anoien, which went on to become our annoy. But the other form remained in French to become what it is today, borrowed by English in the 18th century as ennui. (It was Chris Stewart and Kurt Bonifay who saved us from our ennui today by suggesting we look into this very Good–if French–Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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