By Dr Oliver Tearle
The list of synonyms for the word ‘boring’ is not, ironically, an exhaustive or monotonously long list. There are relatively few common synonyms to denote the idea of something being boring, but there are some handy ones. Below, we introduce some of the best boring synonyms – and antonyms – which are far from ‘boring’ themselves.
Synonyms for the word ‘boring’
Let’s start with some of the more obvious and common synonyms for the word ‘boring’. TEDIOUS is a good place to start. This word has been in use since at least the early fifteenth century (the OED’s earliest citation is from the poet John Lydgate, the great follower of Chaucer), and its meaning has remained fairly consistent ever since: it denotes something that is overly long and tiresome – or, if you will, boring. The word is from the Latin meaning ‘to weary’.
DULL, another common synonym for boring, initially meant someone or something slow, sluggish, and uninspired; from that initial meaning came its commoner use, denoting something that causes ennui, something uninteresting or uninspired. The OED’s first recorded use of this sense of ‘dull’ is from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, where Adriana asks, ‘Are my discourses dull?’ The word is believed to be from an Old English word meaning ‘foolish’, derived from the German toll.
If something is dull or tedious, it might also be described as TIRESOME or WEARISOME: that is, something which tires because it fails to inspire our interest.
Of course, one way to find a synonym for ‘boring’ is to take an antonym for ‘boring’ (see below for more suggestions) and add a negating prefix, such as un-, to the start of it. So UNINTERESTING is a fairly straightforward (and self-explanatory) synonym for boring, as is UNEXCITING or UNAMUSING.
Of course, sometimes life itself can be boring, and good words for describing a general mood of uninspiring day-to-day living are HUMDRUM and MUNDANE.
The first of these, humdrum, first turned up in the sixteenth century to describe something monotonous and commonplace, apparently arising from ‘hum’ (as in a humming sound) and ‘drum’ (not related to the musical instrument, and probably just to echo and rhyme with the first syllable). As for mundane, that’s related to the Latin for ‘world’, mundi, in that it initially related to worldly (as opposed to heavenly) pleasures.
And thinking of day-to-day boredom, MONOTONOUS can describe both a dull and repetitive existence and speech of writing which is uninspired and uninspiring. It comes from monotone, so it was originally (in the eighteenth century) used exclusively for sounds, speech, or music. The OED cites Frances Burney, the great eighteenth-century novelist and precursor to Jane Austen, for its first example of the word in extended use: ‘His lady—tittle-tattling, monotonous, and tiresome’, Burney wrote of some unfortunate woman in her diary in December 1780.
The English language has always had something of a bias against prose writing in favour of poetry. So if something is beautifully expressed it is poetic, or a footballer’s goal or a ballerina’s dancing is ‘pure poetry’. But as for PROSAIC, that denotes something boring and pedestrian, so is never used as a compliment. Curiously, prosaic started out in the late sixteenth century as a noun, simply referring to a writer of prose; but by the eighteenth century it was being used as an adjective to describe something unromantic, dull, unexciting, or FLAT.
So, they’re some of the commoner synonyms for boring. But there are some rarer, but very colourful, terms relating to boredom and boring people and things which are worth sharing …
For instance, the word MACROLOGIST can be used of a boring conversationalist, whom one usually meets at parties.
BATTOLOGY, meanwhile, denotes tiresome and repetitive talking. Not to be confused with batology, with one t, which refers to the study of brambles or blackberries.
And a MOROLOGIST is a boring fool who talks nonsense: the word comes from the ancient Greek for ‘dull’, also the root of the terms moron and oxymoron (literally, ‘sharp-dull’).
Antonyms for the word ‘boring’
The antonyms for ‘boring’ – words which denote not boring things or people but the opposite – are fairly numerous. Perhaps the most obvious word is INTERESTING, though ironically there is something slightly boring about this word in some context, since it is so widely used, and the level of ‘interest’ in a particular thing, of course, can differ from person to person.
CURIOUS can be a viable alternative to interesting. The word can be used of both an interested person (‘I’m curious about your new novel’) and an interesting topic that arouses interest (‘what a curious thing to say – what did he mean?’).
FASCINATING is slightly more enthusiastic, and less bland – and comes from the Latin fascināre meaning ‘to cast a spell on’. So we talk about something that’s really CAPTIVATING being SPELLBINDING – as far from boring as it’s possible to get.
ENGAGING, AMUSING, COMPELLING, ENTERTAINING, and RIVETING all convey similar, if varying, levels of interest in something which captures our attention and holds it.
And if a book is not boring but GRIPPING, we might describe it as UNPUTDOWNABLE, a somewhat arch or playful term for a book that’s so good it is simply impossible to put down and stop reading. This term actually first turned up in 1839, in Lady Lytton’s novel Cheveley, where it referred not to a book but to a particular quality or personality trait that could not be suppressed:
‘Maugh I never eat another dinner if augh don’t dine there too!’ chuckled Peter, with un-put-down-able and un-offend-able gallantry.
The term would continue to be used about people throughout the nineteenth century, and was only first applied to books in 1935. Sadly, the term putdownable for a book that is the opposite has never quite taken off in the same way.