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ennui

[ ahn-wee, ahn-wee; French ahn-nwee ]
/ ɑnˈwi, ˈɑn wi; French ɑ̃ˈnwi /
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noun

a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom: The endless lecture produced an unbearable ennui.

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Origin of ennui

1660–70; <French: boredom; Old French enui displeasure; see annoy
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does ennui mean?

Put simply, ennui is a French word that describes feelings associated with boredom.

Where does ennui come from?

The word ennui comes from an old French word meaning “profound sadness, chagrin, or disgust.” Among French speakers, ennui can also refer to “disagreeableness.” It comes from a Latin word that also gives us the word annoy.

English borrowed ennui by the 1660s to express a “weary boredom” that results from dissatisfaction or idleness. A 1778 definition of bore describes it as a “thing which causes ennui or annoyance.”

Like in French, ennui became used in English to describe a feeling of discontent almost as if it was an actual object. It usually has a kind of wistful listlessness.

How is ennui used in real life?

Ennui, as a fancy word for “boredom,” implies discontent and angst. It is often used as if a person were describing an illness, as in “I’m suffering from ennui.” It’s a tricky word to define in English—probably because it comes from French.

Ennui remains associated with a kind of existential emotion and can be used for melodramatic effect.

More examples of ennui:

“The prospect of being with your significant other forever. Does it sound like eternal bliss? Or a recipe for soul-crushing ennui?”
—Brad Newsome, The Sydney Morning Herald, September, 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use ennui in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for ennui

ennui
/ (ˈɒnwiː, French ɑ̃nɥi) /

noun

a feeling of listlessness and general dissatisfaction resulting from lack of activity or excitement

Word Origin for ennui

C18: from French: apathy, from Old French enui annoyance, vexation; see annoy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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