Wednesday, 18 March 2015

For Lack Of A Better Word

I'm moved by words. I pondered if it's in equal measures with astounding photos that are almost eloquent. Words take precedence, for they create images in my mind which I can't physically look at or hold. I see them floating in space before me, queueing and rearranging themselves to form the words I consciously pluck from the assembly line to articulate and express myself.

Sometimes though, there are no words to describe what we feel or think. What did we do when we were children and could barely spell or pronounce our names? 

We made up words. 

There's no stopping us, adults, from doing the same when our supposedly wide vocabulary still leaves us speechless from time to time. 

 On his blog The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, graphic designer and filmmaker John Koenig more than made up for the lack of better words to name certain emotions, he also accompanied the entries with narrative videos not only for entertainment value, but also to further illustrate the definition of the words.

I was drawn to these ones:

n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die—and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.

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.

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.

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. 

Mal de coucou
n. a phenomenon in which you have an active social life but very few close friends—people who you can trust, who you can be yourself with, who can help flush out the weird psychological toxins that tend to accumulate over time—which is a form of acute social malnutrition in which even if you devour an entire buffet of chitchat, you’ll still feel pangs of hunger. 

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.


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.

Ecstatic shock
n. 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—which scrambles your ungrounded circuits and tempts you to chase that feeling with a kite and a key.

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.

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.

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.

Dialecstatic made me smile at the thought of how the Scottish pronounce 'six'. Ask one to say it for you. Then make them repeat it.

John Koenig is described on Facebook as someone into jazz piano, deep image poetry, and nostalgia. Interesting, but not surprising, judging from his word-weaving talent. 

The stalker in me googled him. 

It turns out that there are a few John Koenigs out there, and the most famous is the ninth and last commander of Moonbase Alpha from the film, Space: 1999, played by Martin Landau.

Like dictionaries where words all seem to be made up had the etymology not been placed next to it, some authors exist in our literary imagination in the form of their pen names. Or screen name. Or stage name. Or a name other than their name. 

Whatever the case may be, I'm 'wordenvious'. I wish I was the one who came up with this genius of a dictionary.

What about you? Ever made up a word?


  1. This is brilliant, I love it. I used to make up words all the time as a child...I still do even now ;) xx

  2. Haha, this reminds me of my sister and I when we were little, we would always make up words. Some now used. Great post. Have a lovely week. x

  3. Sonder. Such a special word. It describes what I do everyday commuting to work and looking at people or when I am in a restaurant waiting for my order.


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