The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows - describing the indescribable

By Mashal Afridi
Fri, 06, 20

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows helps you with describing and labelling unusual emotions....


In 2006, John Koening was writing poetry when he came up with the idea of writing a dictionary exclusively containing words for emotions that couldn’t be described fully through the vocabulary we already have in English. So, the idea led to the creation of an amazing resource, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Currently, it’s accessible through a website and a YouTube channel, and the book is expected to be published soon.

The words are invented based on his research on the origin of words, the historical development of their meanings, and meanings of used prefixes, suffixes, and word roots.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows helps you with describing and labelling unusual emotions. The dictionary is fun to read, as one can swiftly relate to the emotions described. Here are a few neologies from the dictionary for you to connect to and enjoy:

Lalalalia: the realization while talking to yourself that someone else is within earshot, which leads you to crossfade into mumbled singing.

Rollover reaction: when you dream about someone you know, and this skews how you feel about them all the next day.

Moriturism: the jolt of awareness that you will die.

Vemodalen: the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist, which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and cheap.

The bends: frustration that you’re not enjoying an experience as much as you should, even if it’s something you’ve worked for years to attain, as if your heart had been accidentally demagnetized by a surge of expectations.

Midding: feeling the tranquil pleasure of being near a gathering but not in it; hovering outside a party while others enjoy inside; resting your head in the backseat of a car listening to your friends chatting, feeling blissfully invisible yet still fully included, safe in the knowledge that everyone is together and okay, with all the thrill of being there without the burden of having to be. Being “at” the occasion but not “in” the occasion.

Chrysalism: the amniotic tranquility you feel when you’re indoors during a thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an argument upstairs. (Chrysalism stops when the water starts leaking through the ceiling)

Rubatosis: the unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat, as if to casually remind you, I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.

Catoptric tristesse: the sadness that you’ll never really know what other people think of you. The true picture of how we’re coming off somehow reaches us softened and distorted.

Onism: the awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience. The world is filled with uncountable amazing places, people, and opportunities. Onism is felt when you think about all the things you will miss out on with every choice you make.

Anthrodynia: a state of exhaustion with how shitty people can be to each other, typically causing a sense of affection for things that are sincere but not judgmental, are unabashedly joyful, like your pet dog.

Hanker sore: finding a person so attractive it actually kind of pisses you off.

Wytai: the feeling when a feature of modern society suddenly strikes you as absurd and grotesque—from electricity to touch-screens to organ transplants.

Degrasse: entranced and unsettled by the vastness of the universe, experienced in a jolt of recognition that the night sky is not a wallpaper, but a deep, foreign ocean.

Mahpiohanzia: the disappointment of being unable to fly.

Lachesism: the desire to be struck by disaster.

Zielschmerz: the exhilarating dread of finally pursuing a lifelong dream, which requires you to put your true abilities out there to be tested on the open savannah.

Anemoia: nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. Imagine sitting on the roadside and watching the locals pass by, locals who lived and died before any of us arrived, who sleep in some of the same houses we do, who look up at the same moon, who breathe the same air but live in a completely different world and time.

Yu yi: Sometimes, a moment in life briefly jolts you awake from your routine, like your baby’s first laugh. You relish these instances when they happen, but they don’t last long enough, and too soon you grow accustomed to them. As a result, you may experience yu yi, the desire to feel intensely again.

Exulansis: the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it, until the memory itself feels out of place, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.

Jouska: a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head — a crisp analysis, a devastating comeback—where you can connect more deeply with people than in everyday life. (Don’t we normally do this in the shower?)

Kenopsia: the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet, with the population so conspicuously absent that they glow like neon signs. It invokes your brain to feel “uh-oh, this is weird.”

Waldosia: scanning faces in a crowd looking for a specific person who would have no reason to be there, which is your brain’s way of checking to see whether they’re still in your life.

Gnossienne: a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life.

Mauerbauertraurigkeit: the inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like as if all your social taste buds suddenly went numb, leaving you unable to distinguish cheap politeness from the taste of genuine affection.

Avenoir: the desire that memory could flow backward. We move as a rower moves, facing backwards: we see where you’ve been, but not where we’re going. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way.

Mimeomia: the frustration of knowing how easily you fit into a stereotype, even if you never intended to, even if it’s unfair and even if everyone else feels the same way.

Ecstatic Shock: the surge of energy upon catching a glance from someone you like; a thrill that starts in your stomach, arcs up through your lungs and flashes into a spontaneous smile.

Ellipsism: sadness that you’ll never know how history will turn out.

Liberosis: the desire to care less about things and to loosen your grip on your life. To hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.

Semaphorism: a conversational hint that someone has something personal to say on the subject being discussed - an emphatic nod, a half-told anecdote, an enigmatic ‘I know the feeling’.

Sonder: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own, populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and craziness.