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Defining ‘Pretentious’

Among the anti-hipster crowd, the word pretentious is tossed around like a well-worn hacky sack. Everything from art and music to fashion sense and word choice has been labeled pretentious. And while some brush it off as a meaningless insult stemming from intellectual insecurity, the line between pretentious and genius proves to be something more than a matter of perspective.

Pretension is characterized by a falseness: a thin veil of intelligence, wisdom or general importance where that veil is only supported by ego. The pretentious reveal ignorance through pseudo-intellectual arrogance or condescension.

Ultimately, nothing profound is being said. It’s sold as deep, though is ultimately shallow. It’s college freshmen repeating tenets of Philosophy 101 and selling them as groundbreaking. It’s undeserved grandeur or sentimentality.

Pretension is an attitude, and so detecting it can sometimes be cloudy work (labeling something as pretentious relies upon an assumption of intention), but this does not mean it only exists in the mind of the accuser. While the word is often overused, it is neither subjective nor meaningless.