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Check This Dictionary for Emotions You Never Knew Existed


Part literary and part audiovisual, the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a fascinating exercise in voicing concrete and highly specific emotions.

Have you ever felt that you lack precise words to describe the things you feel or think? This was happening all the time to John Koenig. So he decided to create a dictionary of all the words needed (in English, at least) to describe complex and very specific feelings.

It’s not always a work of beautiful and inspiring feelings. One of the final entries is “lachesism” which describes a desire to be struck by disaster such that life is thereafter more poignant and understandable.


  1. the desire to be struck by disaster —to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall— which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.

When it comes to feelings, really one shouldn’t try to justify too much: the entries can be read as short prose poems or as philosophical definitions of the ways of feeling, of moods, or very subjective modalities to witness and experience the world. Despite the subjective and personal burden they bear, the definitions also talk about our own world and the current historical moment.

For example, then we have the word “exulansis,” a feeling of the inevitability of estrangement from our feelings that results from the estrangement we feel toward others.


  1. 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.

There are also feelings that seem to emerge from religious or philosophical ideas, or that seem to represent the marriage of ideas and poetic emotion, as in “onism” which is an awareness of how little we’ll experience of the world around us, and a sense of wonder about the human experience as described by others.

onism – n. the awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience

Imagine 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.

To think that the definitions of all of our emotions can be recorded once and forever is, at best, reductionist, in the sense that human experience is always wider than any one of us is capable of capturing. The dictionary has, of course, been addressed as a literary genre by many writers, from Gilles Deleuze to Carlos Fuentes and Michel Tournier. The Internet itself can sometimes even be understood as a dictionary of dictionaries. But the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a good example of how the human soul is ready to feel more than the logocentric mind is able to articulate; or put another way, that the universe has more colors than we could name.

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