You know those thoughts that plague you on nights when you can’t escape your own mind? They usually start out pretty tame—the things you put off doing today that you now have to do tomorrow, whether you were actually being obnoxious when you complained to your mom earlier, or when you’ll hang out with your friends again.
But after a while, your thoughts turn down another, less concrete path. They come in gently at first, like drifting clouds, as you settle into the darkness of your bedroom. They remind you of things you don’t think about too often—the vastness of the ocean, the seeming inevitability of a new day coming, and the joy that accompanies doing the right thing. Yet your mind takes you deeper still, and eventually you enter into a realm of thought so abstract and intangible that you can’t be sure of anything other than that a storm is brewing, against your will, inside your own mind. You feel simultaneously lost and on the edge of an epiphany.
Thoughts like this, believe it or not, capture all of us at some point. Fortunately, John Koenig does a wonderful job of making them a little less ambiguous with his web series, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, in which he creates and defines unique words to describe the indescribable. Just a word of advice before watching: Be prepared for the feels.
I figured I’d start you off like your mind would, gently. Sonder is the realization that everyone has a story, possibly connected with but essentially separate from your own. This word is the first in Koenig’s dictionary that I came into contact with, and it was eye-opening. It made me hungry for more, and I hope it does the same for you.
Speaking of eye-opening… Opia describes the ambiguous intensity of eye contact. Have you ever glanced at someone, only to find that he or she was looking at you too? The connection, if it can even be called that, is severed in an instant as soon as you look away, and yet you feel temporarily exposed, as though you’ve trespassed and accidentally witnessed a private part of someone’s life. Are the eyes really so weak, to let someone in so easily? Or does that perhaps make them the strongest part of us all?
One of my personal favorites, socha is the hidden vulnerability of the people around you. I touched on it briefly in my previous article—the concept that we tend to fabricate self-confidence for the public eye, but in reality the walls we put up can crumble with the simple impact of a sincere human voice.
The world is filled with an unfathomable number of amazing places, people, and opportunities. Even the idea of college, with the entirety of its campus, courses, and clubs, is almost too much to bear when you think about all the things you could miss out on with every specific choice you make. This is onism—the awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience.
Intertwined with all that you may have missed, how little you feel you’ve gained is probably one of the most harrowing things to realize. Olēka is the awareness of how few days are memorable. Do you ever recall the weeks leading up to a vacation, or were they just obstacles, dates waiting to be crossed out and forgotten? Do you know the last thing, significant or not, that you said to your best friend? Can you even remember what you ate for dinner two days ago?
This is the fear of living an ordinary life. It’s understandable but strange to think of that adjective so negatively. Normal, usual, typical, regular—you may find these words repulsive. You may tell yourself you want to go beyond, be extraordinary. But when it comes down to it, doesn’t that just mean “even more ordinary”?
Undoubtedly, you have regrets. Perhaps you’ve told yourself over and over again, like I have, not to dwell on the past, to let it go already, to move on. And certainly there is good to be found in that line of thinking. But, as klexos describes, good can also come from reexamining your past.
Another one of my favorites, anemoia is nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. Whether you’re a diehard fan of a legendary band, an avid viewer of period dramas and classic films, or just someone who likes to daydream about another age, I hope you’ll connect with this particular word.
Sometimes you don’t feel the need to think about the past, or the future for that matter. Sometimes the here and now becomes a concept so mesmerizing and beautiful that you can’t help being absorbed into it, as it is, with no hidden meanings, no symbolism in sight. This is ambedo, a moment you experience for its own sake. (Additionally, if you’re looking for a slightly less optimistic, but nonetheless intriguing, definition, Koenig has included a comment just below the video with his original meaning for the word.)
Even if you occasionally have that moment when everything makes sense and is exciting simply for what it is, there are probably still times when you feel like you’re going about your life waiting for something—anything—interesting to happen. The routine of every day nearly suffocates you, and you look up, out, anywhere but here, to get that one desperate breath of fresh air. This absurd longing for the clarity of disaster is lachesism.
11. Yù Yī
While you wait for your “disaster,” which may or may not even arrive, you have to settle for the few brief instances in your life when you are jolted awake from your routine. You relish these instances when they happen, but they just don’t last long enough, and too soon you grow accustomed to life once more. As a result, you may experience yù yī, the desire to feel intensely again. (I encourage you to watch this video particularly closely and attentively in order to make the most of its meaning.)
Finally, I leave you with lutalica, the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories. I know it seems to contradict some of the earlier words that may have hinted at you being just like everybody else, but this concept—that you don’t need a label in order to belong—is nonetheless important to realize.
John Koenig has created many wonderful words in addition to these twelve, and I encourage you to check out the rest of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. I hope you’ve been inspired to look at yourself and the world around you a little differently, a little more closely. And if not, then at least you’ve gained some awesome new words for your vocabulary!