Tag Archives: ennui

Don’t be misled or go awry

My latest article for The Week is about book words – words you’ve learned from a book without learning the pronunciation. We’ve all had them, and there’s no shame in it:

Don’t be misled or go awry with ‘book words’

And here’s my companion pronunciation tip video (also embedded in the article):


A word that seems to give up out of boredom. A heavy-lidded e hunkers down into two sheep-like n‘s; the third one has keeled over and is lying feet skyward, staring at the blue emptiness. And at the end: the i, a brief candle about to go out. Others may see in it a little train of thought with a locomotive smokestack puffing on the right, but this train is crawling forever across an eternal Great Plains of the soul. The word can give less impassive overtones, with its echoes of annoy (which is in fact a related word) and an incomplete suggestion of “on we go” – but, you see, the go got up and went. Ennui can sometimes be seen with its Anglo-Saxon cousin boredom, and is also occasionally to be seen with its German relation Weltschmerz, but this is clearly the sort of word that smokes a Gauloise under the bleu, blanc et rouge while sipping absinthe for want of anything, oh, anything better to do. It started out as Latin inodio, proclaiming its hatred, but it got worn down over the years, lost its stop, its censorious io now trailing off instead as a tongue-relaxing ui, and it just can’t be bothered to care any more.