No Use For Pretentious

I've decided that one word that I no longer have any use for is "pretentious." I used to think I knew what it meant. The dictionary says it's someone pretending to be more intelligent and/or cultured than they actually are. But I've heard so many people use the word against others for things that I personally did not find to be pretentious. I realized that the speaker was creating in their minds a whole negative backstory as to the motivation of the person they were judging, that may or may not be true. And that of course made me wonder how often I'd done the same thing to others.

Yes, so someone calls those mountains the Hi-MA-li-ahs, instead of the Hi-ma-LAY-ahs, and that sounds weird to you. But it isn't necessarily pretentious. That is, they may not be trying to sound more cultured than they are. They may be trying to be respectful to the culture of others, or have some personal connection to that pronunciation. The same with Ha-vah-ee and other words I cannot think of at the moment.

If someone wears an item of clothing or uses an accessory that is different from "the norm" that doesn't necessarily mean they're being pretentious. It may have personal significance to them, or give them confidence, or hell, they may just like it! It may not ever have occurred to them that someone else would look at it and judge that they were pretending to be other than they are.

I know that the word "pretentious" does have meaning. Like, if someone removes their People magazine from the coffee table and replaces it with Granta just before company comes over, that is pretentious. But the vast majority of the time that I've seen the word used, it's been far less clear.The thing about "pretentious" is that it's about the intent, not the action. And it's rare when we truly know the intent of someone's actions. When people do things that we consider to be "normal" we don't question their intent. It's only when they do something that is different from what we're accustomed to that we speculate and almost always (it seems) come up with a negative motivation. So the majority of the time when someone calls someone else pretentious, what they're really doing is talking about themselves. They're saying is "I'm not used to that and think it's strange."

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