There is no English translation for the word ennui. It is French, and it remains French. However, it is one of those words that has been transferred to the English language in its original form, pronunciation, and meaning.
The picture identifies it perfectly. It is pure, unadulterated boredom
As for bored, the Oxford English Dictionary says it was the Earl of Carlisle who first used it in 1768 (I pity my Newmarket friends, who are to be bored by these Frenchmen). DFW’s interesting point is that the word effectively did not exist in English, at least in written texts, till 1766. Boring and boredom do not appear till the middle of the 19th century (Dickens’ Bleak House is the first written use of the word boredom.) John Evelyn says (in 1667) We have hardly any words that do…fully express the French naivete, ennui, bizarre, etc. and Berkeley used the word ennui as a synonym for boredom in 1732.” *
Boredom, or ennui, is not owned by someone else. They do not impose it upon you. They may contribute to it, but ennui is something that you own. Sometimes it is so all-encompassing that it is painful.
If you have ever been in school at any level, you know what ennui is and what it feels like. No matter how good the teacher is, how interesting the subject can be, or how invested you are in your education, there is at least one day in your academic life when you are just plain bored to tears/bored to death/filled with ennui. There is no medical cause for it. It is circumstantial and…hopefully….temporary.
Some therapists connect boredom/ennui with clinical depression, but are careful to point out that the major difference is that ennui is easily overcome by activity and change of immediate circumstances. Depression, on the other hand, requires therapy and…perhaps…medication. However, it is also clear that boredom frequently contributes to depression. Part of one’s therapy becomes the learning of techniques to overcome or substitute for boredom. That allows the therapist or the self to deal with the depression as a singular entity.
Fatigue contributes to a sense of ennui. Assuring one’s self of relaxation and proper rest can contribute to the kind of creativity and energy to seek out a more interesting pastime. But sometimes the best solution is the passing of time. It may seem as if clocks have stopped and the moment will never end, but it will.
It would seem that the English words boredom and disinterest only partially express the ultimate meaning of the word ennui, however. It would appear to be an expression which describes more than mental drifting. There is something more all-encompassing or comprehensive about ennui that has to do with the state of existence. You can’t just snap your fingers and be rid of it. When in a state of ennui one’s intellectual, physical, emotional and psychic “selves” are out of whack.
Maybe it takes a lively piece of music, a walk through a beautiful park, or a swim in a cool pond (some would say a good martini, a Whopper, or the purchase of a frivolous thing) to do it. Being such a great French word, maybe it’s more colorful and dramatic than those suggestions. I’ll leave it to your imagination.
Photo Credit: fr. Wikipedia.com