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Ennui: Bothered with Boredom

Oldelaf’s latest song featured on Yabla, “Vendredi” (Friday), is a sort of satirical ode to boring weekends: 


Je m'ennuie

I am bored

Je me sens tout chose

I feel peculiar

Captions 42-43, Oldelaf - interprète "Vendredi"

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You might have been able to guess that je m’ennuie means “I am bored” here because it contains the word ennui, which the English language borrowed from the French as a synonym for “boredom.” But in French, l’ennui and its related words don’t only have to do with being bored. They can also involve being bothered, worried, troubled, or annoyed. In this lesson, we’ll see how these multiple meanings play out—and we promise it won’t be boring!

First, there’s l’ennui, which usually just means “boredom”:

Je meurs d’ennui.
I’m dying of boredom.

However, if you pluralize l’ennui (les ennuis), you don’t get “boredoms,” but “problems” or “troubles”:


On évite certains ennuis.

We avoid certain problems.

Caption 16, Le Village de la Bière - Ceci n'est pas un bar!

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Quant à Socrate, il a de sérieux ennuis.

As for Socrates, he has serious troubles.

Caption 27, Il était une fois: l’Homme - 6. Le siècle de Périclès

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(Speaking of philosophers with ennui(s), there's also l'ennui pascalien, or "Pascalian ennui," named after the seventeenth-century polymath Blaise Pascal. It corresponds to the notion of "existential ennui" in English.)


As we saw in the first example, the reflexive verb s’ennuyer means “to be bored.” But the non-reflexive verb ennuyer can either mean “to bore” or “to bother”:


Ça vous ennuie que je vous photographie?

Will it bother you that I photograph you?

Caption 36, Le Journal - Marion Cotillard

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Marc ennuie ses enfants avec ses longues histoires.
Marc is boring his kids with his long stories.


You’ll have to pay attention to context to determine whether ennuyer means “to bore” or “to bother.” In the case of the examples above, taking a photo of someone is probably more likely to bother them than bore them, and kids are probably more likely to be bored than bothered by their dad’s long stories. That said, sometimes ennuyer can have both meanings at once. For example, you could say that Marc is bothering his kids by boring them with his long stories. You could also say that he is annoying them—in fact, the word “annoy” is etymologically related to the word “ennui,” which should make this additional meaning of ennuyer easier to remember.

Context is also key with other ennui derivatives like ennuyeux/ennuyeuse (boring, annoying, tiresome) and ennuyé(e) (bored, annoyed, worried):


Y a rien à dire

There's nothing to say

C'est ennuyeux

It's boring

Captions 39-40, Melissa Mars Music Videos - Et Alors!

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Toutes ses questions sont vraiment ennuyeuses.
All his questions are really annoying.


On peut être fasciné, agacé, déçu,

We can be fascinated, annoyed, disappointed,

énervé par le ton, captivé par l'intrigue

upset by the tone, captivated by the plot,

ou tout bêtement ennuyé...

or, quite simply, bored...

Captions 29-30, Manon et Clémentine - Vocabulaire du livre

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Tu as l’air ennuyé. Mais ne t’inquiète pas! Tout ira bien.
You look concerned. But don’t worry! Everything will be all right.


Hopefully you aren’t bored, annoyed, bothered, or worried at the moment, but if you are, Oldelaf’s new video is a perfect antidote to all the various shades of ennui!


And for more information on the usage and history of the word "ennui" in English, check out this interesting article


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