An Orgy of Ennui Gives Way to the Roaring’ Twenties Revisited

The publishers of the vocabulary series Wordly Wise seem obsessive in their campaign to promote the word ennui. It appears in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grade workbooks, and I can’t think of any other word that appears in multiple editions.[1] Here are pages 76 and 77 from Book 6, which we used for our 9th grade students.


Note that the words “yokel,” “ennui,” “transient,” and “orgy” appear in the same lesson and how quaint yokel’s definition comes off: a “gullible country fellow” and how orgy’s definition – “wild, abandoned merrymaking” – sidesteps its sexual content altogether. I learned early in my career that having students write sentences using unfamiliar words was a waste of time, for the same reason I discouraged them from consulting thesauruses: they more often than not misuse the word because they don’t know its connotations. (Here’s a great example of thesaurus misuse from an earlier post).

If they are unfamiliar with the words, students tend to come up with sentences like this:

The landscape company sent over some yokels to dig our koi garden.

We had an orgy at the pep rally with lots of loud cheering.

Or let’s see if we can use both words in one sentence.

The yokels had a veritable orgy of tobacco juice ejaculations as they dug a koi pond in our back yard.

Anyway, back to ennui.  Certainly, ennui transcends mere boredom. It’s more like a malaise, a world weariness, an existence where even orgies seem like a drag. When I taught the word, I also taught John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.”

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.   
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,   
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy   
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored   
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no   
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,   
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes   
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.   
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag   
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving            
behind: me, wag.

Now that’s ennui!

Well, having endured a year of a pandemic, we all may be suffering to some degree of ennui, despite Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, and TikTock. For most people, simple human contact is a need, whether it be at a sold-out concert or merely in the simple act of shaking hands with a just-introduced barroom companion.

But, hey, it’s the 20s, and the end of Covid (our Spanish flu) in sight. With the Trump Administration (not exactly the equivalent of WWI but pretty damn gruesome) over, and with the legalization of cannabis (our Prohibition) sweeping across the land, we just might set the decade a-roarin’.

In fact, my beloved and I are getting a head start by going full tilt Gatsby (while keeping a sharp eye out for roadside yokels) as we celebrate what we hope to be a new era of love and prosperity).

Happy New Year!


[1] In my 34-year career at Porter-Gaud School, I taught 7th, 8th, 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades, including AP Literature and Composition, so I’m very familiar with the Wordly Wise series. 

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