Obscure Sorrows and Word Porn

For all of you readers out there who feel like my writing is too morose and dour…just give me five more mintues.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a thing that I love. Because I can’t not be doing something all of the time, I found myself scrolling through Facebook last night with no real strategy but to get to a point of legitimate sleepiness without noticing the plodding along of the seemingly endless journey. And in the process of tricking my screaming brain into falling asleep, I came across a video. “If you’ve ever felt one of these ten emotions but not been able to put words to it, here’s what you call it.”

Something like that, the video proposed.

I’m paraphrasing.

It’s okay. I’m a certified paraphraser.

Calm your tits. It’s fine.

I can almost never tell you exactly what I’m feeling, except that whatever it is, I am feeling it intensely. So I was intrigued. And the words were stunningly beautiful. And really accurate. And it felt validating, to have someone else say, hey, that weird shit you feel sometimes?

Samesies, girl.

It was pretty cool.

Now, I’ve been pretty clear that I have a sort of unnatural love for words. The way they sound. The shapes my mouth has to make to say them. The way the sound of a word drapes breath and tone into its recitation. The way that saying a word gives a concept physical form. Making the intangible tangible. Language is seriously the closest thing to magic in this whole wide wicked world, if you ask me, which you didn’t, which clearly isn’t a requirement for me to say things or I wouldn’t have a two year blogiversary under my belt.

That’s what’s so great about me, kids. I say shit, at great length, whether you want me to or not.

You’re welcome.

Anyhow. Language is just a whole thing that my brain responds to very, very strongly. With dopamine, apparently. I have no idea what happens but I have a full-on pleasure response to words, some voices, certain accents, and then just a few random sounds.

Ever hear a knife slowly slicing away pieces of floral foam?

Let me tell you, it is the most delightful thing.

You wanna know the only sound better than a knife cutting through floral foam? A knife cutting through wet floral foam.

Oh my god. I know. It’s so weird but I love it so damn much. Like it’s just satisfying. Like peeling things. It’s like peeling things. There’s just an overwhelming satisfaction to it.

Like this artist who uses latex to make tree paintings. Oh my god. This is basically the floral foam thing but for your eyes.

Anyhow, I shared the video on Facebook with the disclaimer that I had not fact checked the words because I was far too busy watching Jesse Pinkman Eddie Lane Aaron Paul on Hulu at the same time. And I can only fracture my attention into so many pieces.

I mean, I could do more.

But I’m trying to cut back.

But this morning I decided it was time to look into these strange new words of which I’d never heard before. Because I’m not saying I’ve heard every word in the world. Far from it. But it’s uncommon for me to run across one that I’ve (a) never heard before and (b) can’t puzzle out the meaning of by inspecting its root.

And that’s how I ended up at the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Already, you guys, I’m a fan. Both “obscure” and “sorrow” are great, great words.

So Victorian and melancholy.

Oooh. Another great word is “melancholy.”

I’m not going to lie to you guys. Okay. This is how big of a word nerd I am. Ugh. I cried reading a couple of these. Not, like broke down and wept openly or anything. But like, couple of squirts from each eye. The kind you look up to the ceiling and dab away with the back of your hand, pressing the knuckle of your index finger into the niche between your nose and your eye, hoping no one notices as you do.

That needs a word. That kind of tear. It’s almost the only kind of tear I produce anymore. Fleeting, and easily concealed, but always hovering just under the surface of the eyeball, waiting for a chance to spill over.

Jesus fucking tits I’m maudlin, aren’t I? I’m a nearly forty-year-old emo kid. It’s bananas.

Anyhow, reading through the dictionary, I was comforted by the clear indication that whoever this Jon Koenig is, he clearly represents a member of my tribe: those people who have something wired in their brain to be neurologically and physically effected with profound pleasure by the simple use of beautiful language in such a way as to create a music unlike any other.

I know I kind of go off on it, you guys, but I truly, truly cannot explain to you how much I love words. And if a person is able to weave them together to create rhythm and texture and warmth and passion and comfort? Oh my god. Like, you could be neon green with sixteen arms and smell like feta cheese but if you could use words to create beauty for my ears I would love you, desperately, and in spite of myself.

I’m also thinking these might make a good feature…Obscure Sorrow Saturday, perhaps? I don’t know. I’m leaning toward it but we’ll give it a good seven days to marinate before we make any big decisions, yes?

Alright then. One other funny thing before I lay some linguistic loveliness on you. I started out thinking I’d be able to whittle my favorites down to a top ten list.

I know.

What the hell was I thinking? It would have been quicker to tell you the words in the DoOS that I am not head over heals for.

So. It is now my abject pleasure to share with you my curated list of personal favorite entries in the DoOS (in no particular order):

flashover

n. the moment a conversation becomes real and alive, which occurs when a spark of trust shorts out the delicate circuits you keep insulated under layers of irony, momentarily grounding the static emotional charge you’ve built up through decades of friction with the world.

kuebiko

n. a state of exhaustion inspired by an act of senseless violence, which forces you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface—before propping yourself up in the middle of it like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.

exulansis

n. the tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it—whether through envy or pity or simple foreignness—which allows it to drift away from the rest of your life story, until the memory itself feels out-of-place, almost mythical, wandering restlessly in the fog, no longer even looking for a place to land.

Altschmerz

n. weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had—the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert, with nothing interesting left to think about, nothing left to do but spit them out and wander off to the backyard, ready to dig up some fresher pain you might have buried long ago.

nodus tollens

n. the realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre—which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.

liberosis

n. the desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.

vemödalen

n. the frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself.

vellichor

n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

the meantime

n. the moment of realization that your quintessential future self isn’t ever going to show up, which forces the role to fall upon the understudy, the gawky kid for whom nothing is easy, who spent years mouthing their lines in the wings before being shoved into the glare of your life, which is already well into its second act.

nighthawk

n. a recurring thought that only seems to strike you late at night—an overdue task, a nagging guilt, a looming and shapeless future—that circles high overhead during the day, that pecks at the back of your mind while you try to sleep, that you can successfully ignore for weeks, only to feel its presence hovering outside the window, waiting for you to finish your coffee, passing the time by quietly building a nest.

pâro

n. the feeling that no matter what you do is always somehow wrong—that any attempt to make your way comfortably through the world will only end up crossing some invisible taboo—as if there’s some obvious way forward that everybody else can see but you, each of them leaning back in their chair and calling out helpfully, colder, colder, colder.

adronitis

n. frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.

rigor samsa

n. a kind of psychological exoskeleton that can protect you from pain and contain your anxieties, but always ends up cracking under pressure or hollowed out by time—and will keep growing back again and again, until you develop a more sophisticated emotional structure, held up by a strong and flexible spine, built less like a fortress than a cluster of treehouses.

silience

n. the kind of unnoticed excellence that carries on around you every day, unremarkably—the hidden talents of friends and coworkers, the fleeting solos of subway buskers, the slapdash eloquence of anonymous users, the unseen portfolios of aspiring artists—which would be renowned as masterpieces if only they’d been appraised by the cartel of popular taste, who assume that brilliance is a rare and precious quality, accidentally overlooking buried jewels that may not be flawless but are still somehow perfect.

keyframe

n. a moment that seemed innocuous at the time but ended up marking a diversion into a strange new era of your life—set in motion not by a series of jolting epiphanies but by tiny imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, until entire years of your memory can be compressed into a handful of indelible images—which prevents you from rewinding the past, but allows you to move forward without endless buffering.

gnossienne

n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.

anecdoche

n. a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.

catoptric tristesse

n. the sadness that you’ll never really know what other people think of you, whether good, bad or if at all—that although we reflect on each other with the sharpness of a mirror, the true picture of how we’re coming off somehow reaches us softened and distorted, as if each mirror was preoccupied with twisting around, desperately trying to look itself in the eye.

opia

n. the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable—their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque—as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.

mimeomia

n. the frustration of knowing how easily you fit into a stereotype, even if you never intended to, even if it’s unfair, even if everyone else feels the same way—each of us trick-or-treating for money and respect and attention, wearing a safe and predictable costume because we’re tired of answering the question, “What are you supposed to be?”

monachopsis

n. the subtle but persistent feeling of being out-of-place, as maladapted to your surroundings as a seal on a beach—lumbering, clumsy, easily distracted, huddled in the company of other misfits, unable to recognize the ambient roar of your intended habitat, in which you’d be fluidly, brilliantly, effortlessly at home.

semaphorism

n. a conversational hint that you have something personal to say on the subject but don’t go any further—an emphatic nod, a half-told anecdote, an enigmatic ‘I know the feeling’—which you place into conversations like those little flags that warn diggers of something buried underground: maybe a cable that secretly powers your house, maybe a fiberoptic link to some foreign country.

fitzcarraldo

n. an image that somehow becomes lodged deep in your brain—maybe washed there by a dream, or smuggled inside a book, or planted during a casual conversation—which then grows into a wild and impractical vision that keeps scrambling back and forth in your head like a dog stuck in a car that’s about to arrive home, just itching for a chance to leap headlong into reality.

reverse shibboleth

n. the practice of answering a cellphone with a generic “Hello?” as if you didn’t already know exactly who was calling—which is a little like the egg requirement that marketers added to early cake mixes in the 1950s, an antiquated extra step that’s only there to reassure you that it’s an authentic homecooked meal, just like grandma used to make.

fata organa

n. a flash of real emotion glimpsed in someone sitting across the room, idly locked in the middle of some group conversation, their eyes glinting with vulnerability or quiet anticipation or cosmic boredom—as if you could see backstage through a gap in the curtains, watching stagehands holding their ropes at the ready, actors in costume mouthing their lines, fragments of bizarre sets waiting for some other production.

sonder

n. 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 inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

kenopsia

n. the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.

Mauerbauertraurigkeit

n. the inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like—as if all your social tastebuds suddenly went numb, leaving you unable to distinguish cheap politeness from the taste of genuine affection, unable to recognize its rich and ambiguous flavors, its long and delicate maturation, or the simple fact that each tasting is double-blind.

jouska

n. a hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head—a crisp analysis, a cathartic dialogue, a devastating comeback—which serves as a kind of psychological batting cage where you can connect more deeply with people than in the small ball of everyday life, which is a frustratingly cautious game of change-up pitches, sacrifice bunts, and intentional walks.

kairosclerosis

n. the moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savor the feeling—which prompts your intellect to identify it, pick it apart and put it in context, where it will slowly dissolve until it’s little more than an aftertaste.

chrysalism

n. the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an argument upstairs, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling release of built-up tension you understand perfectly.

heartworm

n. a relationship or friendship that you can’t get out of your head, which you thought had faded long ago but is still somehow alive and unfinished, like an abandoned campsite whose smoldering embers still have the power to start a forest fire.

anthrodynia

n. a state of exhaustion with how shitty people can be to each other, typically causing a countervailing sense of affection for things that are sincere but not judgmental, are unabashedly joyful, or just are.

 

moledro

n. a feeling of resonant connection with an author or artist you’ll never meet, who may have lived centuries ago and thousands of miles away but can still get inside your head and leave behind morsels of their experience, like the little piles of stones left by hikers that mark a hidden path through unfamiliar territory.

the bends

n. frustration that you’re not enjoying an experience as much as you should, even something you’ve worked for years to attain, which prompts you to plug in various thought combinations to try for anything more than static emotional blankness, as if your heart had been accidentally demagnetized by a surge of expectations.

slipcast

n. the default expression that your face automatically reverts to when idle—amused, melancholic, pissed off—which occurs when a strong emotion gets buried and forgotten in the psychological laundry of everyday life, leaving you wearing an unintentional vibe of pink or blue or gray, or in rare cases, a tie-dye of sheer madness.

contact high-five

n. an innocuous touch by someone just doing their job—a barber, yoga instructor or friendly waitress—that you enjoy more than you’d like to admit, a feeling of connection so stupefyingly simple that it cheapens the power of the written word, so that by the year 2025, aspiring novelists would be better off just giving people a hug.

ambedo

n. a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—which leads to a dawning awareness of the haunting fragility of life, a mood whose only known cure is the vuvuzela.

antematter

n. the dream versions of things in your life, which appear totally foreign but are still somehow yours—your anteschool, your antefriends, your antehome—all part of a parallel world whose gravitational pull raises your life’s emotional stakes, increasing the chances you’ll end up betting everything you have.

hanker sore

adj. finding a person so attractive it actually kinda pisses you off.

aimonomia

n. fear that learning the name of something—a bird, a constellation, an attractive stranger—will somehow ruin it, transforming a lucky discovery into a conceptual husk pinned in a glass case, which leaves one less mystery to flutter around your head, trying to get in.

apomakrysmenophobia

n. fear that your connections with people are ultimately shallow, that although your relationships feel congenial at the time, an audit of your life would produce an emotional safety deposit box of low-interest holdings and uninvested windfall profits, which will indicate you were never really at risk of joy, sacrifice or loss.

the kinda blues

n. the sad awareness that the unfolding plot of your life feels new and profound but is not unique, just one of a few dozen possible riffs on the same chord progression, while the tunes reverberating from the jukebox in your chest are all covers of old standards from the Great Emotional Songbook, which is 98% identical to that of the chimpanzee.

swish fulfillment

n. the feeling of delicate luck after casually tossing something across the room and hitting your target so crisply and perfectly that you feel no desire to even attempt another shot, which is a more compelling argument for the concept of monogamous love than anything sung to a guitar.

nementia

n. the post-distraction effort to recall the reason why you’re feeling particularly anxious or angry or excited, in which you retrace your sequence of thoughts like a kid wandering across the neighborhood gathering the string of a downed kite, which was likely lost in a romantic storm or devoured by that huge carnivorous tree that is Things Your Parents Have Said.

deep cut

n. an emotion you haven’t felt in years that you might have forgotten about completely if your emotional playlist hadn’t been left on shuffle—a feeling whose opening riff tugs on all your other neurons like a dog on a leash waiting for you to open the door.

Funkenzwangsvorstellung

n. the instinctive trance of a campfire in the dark, spending hours roasting and watching as it settles and sinks into the ground like a heap of shipwrecks whose sailors raise their flickering sails trying to signal that the prevailing winds of your life are about to shift, that the edge of the Earth is real and looming just a few years ahead, and that your marshmallow is on fire.

dream fever

n. the intense heat on the skin of a sleeping person, a radioactive byproduct of an idle mind humming with secret delusions which then vaporize when plunged into the cooling bath of reality, thus preventing a meltdown that could endanger those close by, who tolerate the risk because it gives them energy.

lalalalia

n. the realization while talking to yourself that someone else is within earshot, which leads you to crossfade into mumbled singing, an auditory sleight of hand that distracts the audience from the exposed platform under your persona while you prepare to saw your confidence in half.

scabulous

adj. proud of a scar on your body, an autograph signed to you by a world grateful for your continued willingness to play with her, even when you don’t feel like it.

dialecstatic

adj. hearing a person with a thick accent pronounce a certain phrase—the Texan “cooler,” the South African “bastard,” the Kiwi “thirty years ago”—and wanting them to repeat it over and over until the vowels pool in the air and congeal into a linguistic taffy you could break apart and give as presents.

rollover reaction

n. when your dream about someone you know skews how you feel about them all the next day, an emotion you are unable—and unwilling—to shake.

gnasche

n. the intense desire to bite deeply into the forearm of someone you love.

ameneurosis

n. the half-forlorn, half-escapist ache of a train whistle calling in the distance at night.

 

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