Word: ennui

Pronunciation: ahn-WEE

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


You come down here to console me. That is charming of you. You find me consoled, and you are furious. How like a sympathetic person! You remind me of a story Harry told me about a certain philanthropist who spent twenty years of his life in trying to get some grievance redressed, or some unjust law altered – I forget exactly what it was. Finally he succeeded, and nothing could exceed his disappointment. He had absolutely nothing to do, almost died of ennui, and became a confirmed misanthrope.

– Dorian Gray, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde, 1891)

Eggman: Imagine the look on Sonic’s face when he sees I have Knuckles trapped.

Sonic: You don’t have to imagine, Egghead. [enters with Amy and Sticks] ‘Cause here I am!

Eggman: Well, that was a bit of a letdown. I was expecting a bigger reaction: maybe shock, outrage, perhaps even a little ennui!

Sonic Boom (Season 1, Episode 35 – Two Good To Be True)

Yes, I’m aware I’ve been going through an E-word streak this month, and no, I never thought I’d find a connection between a gothic novel and a cartoon based on a video game franchise. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward confronts Dorian about his indifference over the death of his fiancé, to which Dorian calls him out on his “selfishness” using Lord Henry’s philosophy on the underlying hypocrisies of sympathy that have driven others to boredom and depression. Meanwhile, in Sonic Boom, Dr. Eggman is disappointed to find that capturing one of Sonic’s best friends didn’t have quite the effect he was hoping for, including Sonic’s despair over failing to keep all his friends safe. Ironically, while pointing out the lack of dissatisfaction in their listeners, both Dorian Gray and Dr. Eggman seem to be exhibiting “ennui” themselves!

“Ennui” is a feeling of dissatisfaction and listlessness that comes from a lack of excitement or occupation. The word arose in the mid 18th century and is originally French, having derived from the Latin phrase mihi in odio, meaning “it is hateful to me”. This word shares its origins with the English verb “annoy”, which also stems from the Latin phrase in odio “hated”.

The meaning of “ennui” seems to differ slightly depending on context. Sometimes the word appears to be synonymous with boredom, though in truth it primarily refers to a state of depression brought on by a sense of boredom (such as in Dorian Gray’s story of the philanthropist turned misanthrope by melancholy tedium) or uselessness (such as in Dr. Eggman’s plan to upset Sonic by making him feel incompetent as a hero). From my understanding, “ennui” works well as a middle ground between boredom and depression, though I suppose it fits anywhere on that spectrum. If your characters ever find themselves feeling bored or useless to the point of becoming listless or discontented, “ennui” may be the perfect word to define their state of mind!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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