Printable Version
Pronunciation: pri-ten-shês Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Attempting to impress with affected, exaggerated claims of importance or merit, as 'a pretentious old lady'. 2. Expressing an attitude of superiority, as 'pretentious claims about her social stature'.

Notes: This word is a rather odd offspring of the verb pretend. It comes with an adverb, pretentiously, and a noun, pretentiousness. We also have pretention, which refers to the unwarranted assumption of importance but not the behavior of making such an assumption.

In Play: The pretense of importance underlies the meaning of today's word: "Lexiphanicism is the pretentious or bombastic use of long or obscure words or phrases." It applies to people, too: "Howland is a pretentious academic who thinks one lecture in Canada makes him an internationally known scholar."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from the usual outside source, French prétentieux, from prétension "pretention", inherited from Latin pretentio(n) "pretention", the action noun from praetendere "to stretch forward, allege". This word comprises prae "before, in front of" + tendere "to stretch", from PIE ten-/ton- "to stretch", also underlying Sanskrit tanoti "stretches", Greek tonos "a stretch, thing stretched" (whence English tone), Irish tan "time, occasion", Welsh tant "string", Breton tanga "string", Latvian tit "to wrap, wind", Lithuanian įtampa "tension", Dutch dun "thin", German dünn "thin", and English thin. Notice the use of the concept of stretching to stretching the truth, still available today in English. (Our old friend Rob Towart came up with today's exciting Good Word and thought it might be a treat for us.)

Dr. Goodword,

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