It may comes as no surprise that one of my favorite TV shows is Frasier, with Kelsey Grammer (yes, with an e) and David Hyde Pierce as two brothers who are both psychiatrists. Part of the appeal is watching how they both suffer from their pompous and pretentious natures, and how their obsession with social standing forces them into situations where they typically end up ensnared in webs of lies of their own making.
The modern meaning of pretentious – and by ‘modern’ is mean 17th century – seems to include the notion that all is for show, professing or making claim to great merit or importance, especially when unwarranted; making an outward show; showy, ostentatious.”
The noun, pretension, is of medieval Latin origin, praetensio, and in its early use meant an allegation or assertion that couldn’t be proved. Implicit in this was the idea that the allegation was, in fact, false – hence the lack of proof.
This contrasts with the meaning of pretension as a rightful claim to something, as in the Pretender to the Throne – a claimant to be the King. Both, however, have that concept of claiming in common.
In the book, 100 Pretentious Nursery Rhymes, author Michael Powell takes a number of common rhymes and turns them into more verbose, ostentatious linguistic offerings – basically, pretentious versions. Here are some samples:
“Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
Enjoying her mucid repast.
An arachnid’s arrival
Threatened her survival,
So she left, to avoid being harassed.”
And how about;
“Humpty Dumpty eschewed concavity
When, sitting on a wall, he succumbed to gravity.
Imperial equine and human assistance
Could not restore Humpty to his ovoid existence.”
So thinking back to my run in with the critic who accused me of being pedantic and pretentious, was she right? Do I really make great claims that cannot be substantiated? Am I in any shape or form showy and ostentatious?
Pretentious? Moi? Only when I drink my grande skimmed latte.