?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
21 December 2007 @ 09:06 am
Pretentious much?  
I have an interesting relationship with the word 'pretentious'. I think it's about time I came clean about that.

'Pretentious' means, roughly, acting above one's station. Acting with pretense, to take the word back to its roots. "He's so pretentious" means, basically, "he's acting better than he is." And since the speaker is describing the speaker's own beliefs (who else's?), the phrase really means, "he's acting better than I believe he is."

That's interesting by itself. It means you can't improve somebody's opinion of you without acting pretentious. To get above your (old) self, you first have to figuratively get above yourself. After all, your old (perceived) self wouldn't be able to do what you're trying, so it's beyond them. And yet you're trying anyway. Pretentious much?

I started researching this post by going to Merriam-Webster and getting myself a dictionary definition of the word 'pretentious'. And it basically told me that I didn't need to write this. The English language pointed out this exact same thing for all to see. Now, I'll pass on that same nugget of wisdom to all of you:

Pretentious

1: characterized by pretension: as a: making usually unjustified or excessive claims (as of value or standing)
1b: expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature

2: making demands on one's skill, ability, or means : ambitious <the pretentious daring of the Green Mountain Boys in crossing the lake — American Guide Series: Vermont>
 
 
 
satyrlovesong on December 21st, 2007 05:26 pm (UTC)
*laughs* It looks like we both use the dictionary as a starting point for discussion.
IANALqueen_elvis on December 21st, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
Round 343353: Prescriptivism v. descriptivism.
In actual use, I think it has a different connotation from the one you're putting on it. If I describe some guy as pretentious, everyone knows I'm saying he's aspiring to an image that the facts don't support. Generally a "cool" image.

In work and dating, they say acting more successful and confident than you actually are is a good thing. Nobody wants to hire or date someone who acts like a loser. So in that context, being pretentious is AWESOME.
Noahangelbob on December 21st, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Round 343353: Prescriptivism v. descriptivism.
If I describe some guy as pretentious, everyone knows I'm saying he's aspiring to an image that the facts don't support

But doesn't one aspire to an image through action or capability? Or am I not understanding what you're distinguishing between?

You're right that it's different if what you're claiming or aspiring to boils down to "people liking you." Then it's much more effective for somebody to call you pretentious, because that boils down to "nuh-uh!" :-)
IANAL: analyzequeen_elvis on December 21st, 2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Round 343353: Prescriptivism v. descriptivism.
Well, one aspires to an image through action or capability, but that action has to be more substantial than merely self-selectin a label, or one can be called pretentious.

I personally prefer to make sure I have the chops to back up my self-image. Which is why I didn't start calling myself a writer until recently, despite having majored in it and been paid for it since 2001. YMMV.
Camille, Destroyer of Worldsskamille on December 21st, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Round 343353: Prescriptivism v. descriptivism.
Are you hung up on point 2 of the definition? Because otherwise, I believe 1 and 1b make it very clear that we are talking about the claims a person makes about themselves, implicitly or explicitly, which is only action in a very indirect sense. Bragging about an ability you don't have is pretentious. Speaking like an English lord, unless you are ACTUALLY an English lord, is pretentious. I will think you pretentious if you brag to me about your dancing ability, and I have seen you dance and you suck, or I have never seen you dance. I will not think you pretentious if you talk about dancing after taking me dancing with you and showing me that you are in fact an amazing dancer. My opinion of you can still improve if you brag to me about your dancing ability then actually show me that you live up to your claims. But I might still think you a bit pretentious for feeling the need to TELL me about your dancing ability before you SHOWED me that ability.
r_transpose_pr_transpose_p on December 21st, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Round 343353: Prescriptivism v. descriptivism.
I dance like an English Lord.

I am, in fact, a veritable "Lord of the Dance"
The Water Seeker: pushupplymouth on December 21st, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC)
After all, your old (perceived) self wouldn't be able to do what you're trying, so it's beyond them. And yet you're trying anyway. Pretentious much?

In some contexts that's true but I don't think it's true in all contexts. Think of physical fitness: if your goal is to be able to run a marathon and you're really out of shape and can only run a mile it's not pretentious to train. Through the act of training by definition each day you only do as much as you can and no more (and maybe some days you are lazy and do less). One day you can run 2 miles. One day you can run 5. One day you can run 10. Agreeing to go out running with a friend who can already do a full marathon when you're only at the 5-mile stage might be pretentious, but I don't think the actual act of running itself is pretentious.
Noahangelbob on December 21st, 2007 06:15 pm (UTC)
And yet the plan for running a marathon would be.
blkblk on December 21st, 2007 07:15 pm (UTC)
I'd disagree. It would be pretentious of me to plan to run a marathon, say, next week. It would not be pretentious of me to plan to run a marathon next year, because people would assume that I would plan to train and get in shape for it, and when the time comes, it would not be above me.
satyrlovesong on December 21st, 2007 07:28 pm (UTC)
I agree. Planning in advance and having a reasonable game plan for reaching a goal would be ambitious rather than pretentious in my opinion.
satyrlovesong on December 21st, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
On a personal note:

When I was five, my mother caught me bragging to my kindergarten class that I could downhill snow ski when all I'd ever done was ski down the bunny hill. She got mad at my bragging, so that weekend we drove up to Tahoe and she took me up the Tahoe Queen to the top of the mountain at Sierra Ski Ranch.

Then she made me ski down, all by myself. It took over two hours - and several times I fell into the "holes" at the base of large trees and had trouble getting out. I was wearing the skis *she* learned to ski in, so they still had the leather straps around the ankles - and the holes were taller than I was.

It took me two hours of pain, and frustration and tears - and no parental help. But by the time I got to the bottom of the slope, I *could* ski after a fashion and I only got better from there.

That was the first time I'd ever heard the word pretentious. I still think of snow, even all these years later.
Anthony: interrogating textterpsichoros on December 21st, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
In the example above, it would be pretentious to enter a marathon race occurring in the next month. If one had started training, it would not be pretentious to enter a marathon occurring a year out (or possibly a shorter amount of time out, depending on your training regimen), but it would be pretentious to talk about winning.

The pretentiousness I see most is people making claims (directly or indirectly) about their abilities and expertise which are not supported by the facts. Most use of lit-crit jargon is pretentious, because the users are not actually making points which require the use of that jargon, and/or have not studied critical theory enough to actually use the jargon correctly. Similarly with IT jargon - using programmer or sysadmin jargon to discuss programming or system administration when you know what you're talking about isn't pretentious, but using it when you don't is.
Camille, Destroyer of Worldsskamille on December 21st, 2007 09:01 pm (UTC)
I would go one step further and say that using jargon, even when you understand it completely and are using it correctly, is still pretentious when you are using it to an audience that you know very well won't understand what it means, especially when there are alternative words available.
r_transpose_pr_transpose_p on December 21st, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC)
See, I resemble that remark.

In my own defense, I will claim that use of the wrong jargon to the wrong audience is gauche, and perhaps rude, but only pretentious if one is aware that one is using the wrong jargon with the wrong audience, instead of merely forgetting which things which people know.

(I interact with a good many mathematically-trained non-computer-scientists on a semi-daily basis, and have learned to say "network" instead of "graph", "link" or "connection" instead of "edge", etc

Speaking of which, I finally figured out why they let someone who doesn't know what a MAC address is chair a session on "Networks" at the conference I just went to. It turns out the session on computer networks was called "Computer Networks" and the conference organizers were simply using the "Use 'network' instead of 'graph' around a more general audience" convention)
Camille, Destroyer of Worldsskamille on December 22nd, 2007 02:07 am (UTC)
That's true, I think pretension does require some conscious "trying to appear a certain way." It's not the same thing as cluelessness.
r_transpose_pr_transpose_p on December 22nd, 2007 06:09 am (UTC)
On the other hand, I think this post and thread is really not about pretentiousness, but about people who've been accused of being pretentious, who don't feel that they have been doing anything negative.

I am guessing Noah would not have even brought it up, had someone (I have no idea who, or in what context) not accused him of being pretentious.

I was going to type "who don't feel that *we* have been doing anything negative", but then I realized I am far more prone to accusations of being clueless and insensitive then accusations of being pretentious. I suspect that some of the contexts in which this happens are the same ones that appear under the surface of discussion here, although I could see Noah's taste for particular ages of Port wine leading to a discussion of what it means to be pretentious. (For the record, Noah, should you choose to offer me a 20 year old tawny, I will *not* misuse the opportunity to accuse you of pretension ;)
Liz: wordslabelleizzy on December 21st, 2007 07:57 pm (UTC)
your way of phrasing it is more accessible to me than the dictionary definition was.
Davidtsgeisel on December 21st, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
I've often heard of music being described as "pretentious" - generally it's used in conjunction with "Prog Rock".

Perhaps the second definition applies in that situation? In which case, I'd call that a good thing, rather than a bad one.

Why *has* pretentious become such a negative word anyway?
r_transpose_pr_transpose_p on December 22nd, 2007 06:12 am (UTC)
I think it was always a negative word. You, perhaps, should instead take issue with its use to describe a musical genre you obviously either
1) like
or
2) don't find to be pretentious

rbusrbus on December 22nd, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)

i was once called a pretentious asshole.
actually the quote was:

"don't patronize me, you pretentious asshole."
i thought using the word "patronize" was pretentious.

ten : means "to stretch" or exTENd in the indo-european root.
preTENd
disTENd
and like that there.

honestly,
i really *am* a pretentious asshole.