The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Seth Godin had a post the other day about a word I had never heard of, “sonder”.

My guess is that most people have not heard of the word either. Here is the definition:

Sonder is 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.

There’s even a video to go along with the word:

Sonder reminds us that each of us has a story, a story worth sharing. And just as importantly, sonder reminds us that we’re all in this together.

It’s a great word; the problem is, it’s not quite a real word.

Sonder is one of many words that can be found at The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrowsa compendium of invented words written by John Koenig.

According to its web site, each original definition aims to fill a hole in the language—to give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for. All words in this dictionary are new. They were not necessarily intended to be used in conversation, but to exist for their own sake; to give a semblance of order to a dark continent, so you can settle it yourself on your own terms, without feeling too lost—safe in the knowledge that we’re all lost.

I love the idea behind this web site, and spent some time checking out a few of the other “invented” words, and thought I’d share a few.

kudoclasm: sometimes it feels like your life is flashing before your eyes, but it’s actually the opposite: you’re thinking forward, to all the things you haven’t done, the places you intend to visit, the goals you’ll get around to…

nodus tollensthe 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.

vellichor: 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.

Rückkehrunruhe: the feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness—to the extent you have to keep reminding yourself that it happened at all, even though it felt so vivid just days ago—which makes you wish you could smoothly cross-dissolve back into everyday life, or just hold the shutter open indefinitely and let one scene become superimposed on the next, so all your days would run together and you’d never have to call cut.

nighthawk: 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.

How great would it be if every dictionary offered such beautiful and vivid and thought provoking definitions. Maybe in the old days when dictionaries had to be printed there was a constraint on how long a definition could be. That constraint is now gone, and the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is taking full advantage of the new medium by including photos and videos to enhance the meaning of these invented words.

(Ironically, though, there is apparently a printed version of this dictionary to be published soon.)

I haven’t had the chance to go through the entire dictionary, but I do plan to work my way through over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’d also recommend that you look at Seth’s take on the word sonder. As always, he’s got a way with words, and a way of making you think.

*image courtesy of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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