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What does it mean to be whimsical?

January 13, 2011

Last June we wrote about design words we don’t like. What about words we do like? For instance: WHIMSICAL. I love that word. I was a little disillusioned the other day when I googled “whimsical light fixture” and got such sweet gems as:

Sisal Lighting - Original Monkey Chandelier


Bellacor - Chelsea Five-Light Chandelier

Beauty of Lighting - Astronaut Light

What’s that? You don’t believe that you can find those items by googling “whimsical light fixture”? Try it yourself!  I’ll let you click around the results while I go make a sandwich.

Ok, I’m back. See?!?! Isn’t it unbelievable?

I don’t really think of those examples as whimsical. I think of them as tacky. Let’s break down what my good friend Merriam-Webster says about these words:


1: full of, actuated by, or exhibiting whims (see whim)

2a: resulting from or characterized by whim or caprice; especially: lightly fanciful b: subject to erratic behavior or unpredictable change


1 a: characterized by lack of good breeding b: shabby, seedy

2 : not having or exhibiting good taste: as a: marked by lack of style: dowdy b: marked by cheap showiness: gaudy

It appears that whimsical means “unexpected” while tacky means “lacking style”. Hmm…it appears those light fixtures I found are indeed  whimsical as it is certainly unexpected to see monkeys holding candle sticks; however, they are also tacky because they are clearly lacking style. I suppose I will have to revise my search next time…

I shouldn’t really be this bitter. After all, I have been known to wear plenty of tacking things in my day.

Yes, that's a silver shirt. You know you're jealous!

With all this venting, I must leave on a positive note. When I think of whimsical, I think of things like these:

Anthologie Quartett - Coffee Light

Jake Phipps - Jeeves & Wooster

Si Studio - Origami's Hunter

If you’ve you stumbled upon anything whimsical–or tacky–feel free to share below!

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