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When ‘Pretentious’ Becomes Pretentious

Is it just me, or has the ‘word of the year’ since 2004 been ‘pretentious’? I very rarely heard this word in general conversation before this time and when I did it was fitting for the purpose. Now though, if a good film has an experimental cinematographer many will call the film pretentious. If a piece of art sticks to its genre too rigidly it’s boring but if it breaks the mould it’s immediately pretentious. Black and white photography when there is no need: pretentious. Puff Daddy portrays ‘smart casual’ a bit too vividly: pretentious. You wear your dressing gown during the day: pretentious. My lunch-time baguette: pretentious. When will it end?

Since this uprising of pretension, I’ve oft wondered if many of the people using the word even know the full definition. If they do, I wonder again if they realise how bloody self-important (pretentious) they sound using it in every other sentence.

In fact, doing a Google Trends search for ‘pretentious’ you’ll notice that I’m correct (of course): the search volume for the word previous to September 2004 is virtually nil. Then again, news reports were also very scarce containing the word ‘pretentious’ and I’m sure journalists knew the word previous to this date. So, is it a possibility that the world itself has actually become more grandiose and us, its inhabitants, ridiculously narcissistic in the past 24 months? Is everything actually pretentious and now, as ever, people are just speaking their mind?

I propose that from now on we all use a less pretentious word than ‘pretentious’. I’m now starting the official ‘better-than-thou’ club. Joining fee: £5. Entry requirements: white upper-middle class members of society who want to stand out. Rules: from now on we must use the words ‘grandiose’, ‘ostentatious’ or, preferably, ‘pompous’ when we would have previously said ‘pretentious’.

I’m just kidding of course, I don’t really care, although while you’re finding your wallet to send me the above joining fee I’m going to go and sit in my armchair in my dressing gown. I’ve already laid out a bottle of Nuit St Georges, an over-sized wine-glass and a selection from John Fowles’ oeuvre – time is getting on and I have things to do. I still need to choose which of Jacques Tourneur’s 1940’s B-movie horrors to put on in the background, tune my radio to BBC 4 and find my imported Parisian cigarettes.