A Dictionary of Words Invented to Name Emotions We All Feel, But Don’t Yet Have a Name For: Vemödalen, Sonder, Chrysalism & Much More

Philosophers have always distrusted language for its slipperiness, its overuse, its propensity to deceive. Yet many of those same critics have devised the most inventive terms to describe things no one had ever seen. The Philosopher’s Stone, the aether, miasmas—images that made the ineffable concrete, if still invisibly gaseous.

It’s important for us to see the myriad ways our common language fails to capture the complexity of reality, ordinary and otherwise. Ask any poet, writer, or language teacher to tell you about it—most of the words we use are too abstract, too worn out, decayed, or rusty. Maybe it takes either a poet or a philosopher to not only notice the many problems with language, but to set about remedying them.

Such are the qualities of the mind behind The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a project by graphic designer and filmmaker John Koenig. The blog, YouTube channel, and soon-to-be book from Simon & Schuster has a simple premise: it identifies emotional states without names, and offers both a poetic term and a philosopher’s skill at precise definition. Whether these words actually enter the language almost seems beside the point, but so many of them seem badly needed, and perfectly crafted for their purpose.

Take one of the most popular of these, the invented word “Sonder,” which describes the sudden realization that everyone has a story, that “each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” This shock can seem to enlarge or diminish us, or both at the same time. Psychologists may have a term for it, but ordinary speech seemed lacking.

Sonder likely became as popular as it did on social media because the theme “we’re all living connected stories” already resonates with so much popular culture. Many of the Dictionary’s other terms trend far more unambiguously melancholy, if not neurotic—hence “obscure sorrows.” But they also range considerably in tone, from the relative lightness of Greek-ish neologism “Anecdoche”—”a conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening”—to the majorly depressive “pâro”:

the feeling that no matter what you do is always somehow wrong—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…”

Both the coinages and the definitions illuminate each other. Take “Énouement,” defined as “the bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.” A psychology of aging in the form of an eloquent dictionary entry. Sometimes the relationship is less subtle, but still magical, as in the far from sorrowful “Chrysalism: The amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.”

Sometimes, it is not a word but a phrase that speaks most poignantly of emotions that we know exist but cannot capture without deadening clichés. “Moment of Tangency” speaks poignantly of a metaphysical philosophy in verse. Like Sonder, this phrase draws on an image of interconnectedness. But rather than taking a perspective from within—from solipsism to empathy—it takes the point of view of all possible realities.

Watch the video for “Vemödalen: The Fear That Everything Has Already Been Done” up top. See several more short films from the project here, including “Silience: The Brilliant Artistry Hidden All Around You”—if, that is, we could only pay attention to it. Below, find 23 other entries describing emotions people feel, but can’t explain.

1. Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
2. Opia: The ambiguous intensity of Looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
3. Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.
4 Énouement: The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
5. Vellichor: The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.
6. Rubatosis: The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.
7. Kenopsia: The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.
8. Mauerbauertraurigkeit: The inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like.
9. Jouska: A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.
10. Chrysalism: The amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.
11. Vemödalen: The frustration of photographic something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.
12. Anecdoche: A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening
13. Ellipsism: A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.
14. Kuebiko: A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.
15. Lachesism: The desire to be struck by disaster – to survive a plane crash, or to lose everything in a fire.
16. Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
17. Adronitis: Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone.
18. Rückkehrunruhe: The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.
19. Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.
20. Onism: The frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time.
21. Liberosis: The desire to care less about things.
22. Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.
23. Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

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How a Word Enters the Dictionary: A Quick Primer

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

High School Kids Stage Alien: The Play and You Can Now Watch It Online

Several weeks back, Colin Marshall told you about an enterprising group of high school students in North Bergen, New Jersey who staged a dramatic production of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien. And they did it on the cheap, creating costumes and props with donated and recycled materials. The production was praised by Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver alike. Now, above, you can watch a complete encore performance made possible by a $5,000 donation by Scott, and attended by Weaver herself. Have fun.

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h/t azteclady

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Herbie Hancock’s Joyous Soundtrack for the Original Fat Albert TV Special (1969)

Millions of kids grew up with the groovy yet educational cartoon comedy of Fat Albert, and millions of adults may find it difficult or impossible now to watch the show without thinking of the crimes of its creator. Such is life in the 21st century, but so it was too at the end of the 1960s when the first iteration of Fat Albert debuted. There were plenty of reasons to feel terrible about the culture. Yet the music that came out of the various jazz/funk/fusion/soul scenes seemed like it couldn’t let anyone feel too bad for long.

In 1969, Herbie Hancock had just been let go from the Miles Davis quintet and left historic Blue Note. During this pivotal time, he signed on to compose the soundtrack for the TV special Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert, the precursor to the episodic cartoon Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, which ran from 1972 to 1985 and taught serious ethical lessons about such subjects as kindness, respect, stealing, drugs, scams, kidnapping, smoking, racism, and more with original songs.

The later show’s unforgettable theme song (“na, na, na, gonna have a good time!”) was not penned by Hancock, nor were any of its other tunes. Only the original special used his music, which is maybe why the soundtrack is not better known, as well it should be. “It’s a deeply soulful affair,” writes Boing Boing, “that presaged Hancock’s 1973 jazz-funk classic Head Hunters.” The album, Fat Album Rotunda, had gone out of print, but has now been reissued on the label Antarctica Starts Here.

After listening to the tracks (hear samples above and below), you might find it difficult to resist buying a copy. Whether or not you still enjoy the cartoon, the incredible grooves here evoke much more than its adolescent characters and their junkyard mishaps. This is such an expansive, joyous album, one “in which Hancock,” Superior Viaduct writes, “clearly had a great time.” So too did the rest of the band, “which by the time of recording in late 1969 was both razor-sharp and confidently loose from rehearsing and touring.”

The band included three horn players, “Joe Henderson on sax and flute, Garnett Brown on trombone and Johnny Coles on trumpet and flugelhorn.” Hancock’s solos run fluidly through each song, held in place by the rock-solid swing of Albert Heath’s drums. The compositions are complex and catchy, with lilting melodies, mean hooks, and big refrains.

The album is instantly classic, whether you heard it fifty years ago or just now for the first time. Warner Brothers agreed, and gave Hancock and his band a deal on the strength of the album. So did Quincy Jones, who recorded his own version of the track “Tell Me a Bedtime Story,” a mellow, dynamic slow burn that builds to some of the finest Fender Rhodes playing Hancock put to tape. Fat Albert Rotunda was hardly his first or his last soundtrack album, but while it has fallen into obscurity, it should rank as one of his best.

via Boing Boing

Related Content:

Herbie Hancock Explains the Big Lesson He Learned From Miles Davis: Every Mistake in Music, as in Life, Is an Opportunity

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How Innovative Jazz Pianist Vince Guaraldi Became the Composer of Beloved Charlie Brown Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Cast of Avengers: Endgame Rendered in Traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e Style

Wherever in the world you live, you’ve heard of Avengers: Endgame, and may well have seen it already — or, depending on your enthusiasm for superheroes, may well have seen it more than a few times. It comes, as fans need not be reminded, as the culmination of a 22-film series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that began with 2008’s Iron Man. The $356 million picture (which has already earned, as of this writing, more than $1.2 billion) uses, of course, only the latest and most high-tech visual effects, and a great deal of them, which does get one wondering: how would these superheroic (and supervillianous) characters, all of them larger than life, come through a transplantation to another art form, from an entirely different culture, and a much less overtly spectacular one at that?

A Japanese illustrator who goes by the name Takumi has taken on that challenge. “To commemorate the film’s release, the artist has created a series of illustrations that render characters from the film in Ukiyo-e style,” writes Spoon & Tamago’s Johnny Waldman.

Takumi’s task of translating these American-made characters to that Japanese woodblock print form (which does have a history of portraying actors) included “a lot of time thinking about the unique patterns and kanji names for each character. Thor is pronounced tooru in Japanese, so he assigned the Japanese equivalent, which is 徹(とおる). Thanos’ 6 infinity stones served as the inspiration behind that name, which references the 6 realms of Buddhism.” And all of the Avengers characters Takumi has rendered in this fashion wear costumes with “traditional Japanese designs and each references certain traits of the characters.”

Captain America’s pants, for instance, “use the shippo (七宝) pattern of layered circles, which references the shape of his shield. Thor’s pattern is pretty straightforward: the traditional cloud (雲) pattern. Iron Man uses the complex bishamon kikko (毘沙門亀甲) pattern, which mimics the look of a circuit board.”

Takumi previously made a splash by creating “Ghibli Land,” a hypothetical version of Disney Land themed entirely around the animated films of Studio Ghibli. (The idea turns out to be less hypothetical than it once sounded: Studio Ghibli, as we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture, plans to open its own theme park in 2022.) Just as the staggering success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies proves the popular viability of the kind of superhero stories assumed not so long ago to be the domain of obsessive fans alone, Takumi’s ukiyo-e Avengers cast, all of which you can see at Spoon & Tamago, shows how versatile this traditional art form remains.

via Spoon & Tamago

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Cultureand writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear Debbie Harry’s Stunning Ethereal Vocal Tracks from “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” “Rapture,” and “One Way or Another”

Punk rock “shocked the world” when it arrived in the late 70s, one mainstream news outlet remembers. Bands like The Ramones inspired “a generation of wannabe rockers to buy guitars and form their own bands…. They proved that you didn’t have to be the next Jimmy Page or Paul McCartney to be a rock star.”

The idea is common—that punk bands’ amateurishness gave license to remake musical culture with attitude and style… talent and ability be damned. There’s a sense in which this is true, but there’s also a sense in which it’s a generalization that ignores the various organs—early metal, avant-garde art rock, new wave, etc.—that made up the larger body of punk.

The scene was built on some serious ability, beginning with the primitivist Velvet Underground, who relied on the talents of classically-trained multi-instrumentalist John Cale. In James Williamson, The Stooges had one of the finest guitarists not only in punk (or “heavy metal,” as Lester Bangs called 1973’s Raw Power), but in rock and roll writ large.

Talking Heads had one of punk’s best bass players in Tina Weymouth, a huge influence on contemporary bass guitar. When punk arrived on the radio, it did so in the sultry, chilling tones of Debbie Harry’s two-and-a-half octave-range voice: in the icy, high-pitched echoes of “Heart of Glass,” Call Me,” and “Rapture.”

Before Blondie, Harry was stripped down in the punk band The Stilettos. And before that, her ethereal voice elevated the work of late sixties folk rock band, Wind in the Willows. As one of seven singers, she honed her instrument in the demanding environment of a vocal ensemble. In her best-known Blondie songs, Harry harmonizes with herself in huge trails of reverb, recalling the dreamy psychedelia of earlier years.

Hear her multi-tracked, heavily effected isolated vocals in three huge Blondie hits further up, and her much more stripped-down, rawer vocal track from “One Way or Another,” below. There’s a lot of underground punk and indie and alternative music that did abandon musicianship, with mixed but often brilliant results. But when it comes to what most people remember when they remember the sound of early punk, the genre was just as much driven forward by musical ability and dedication, as evidenced by the career of Debbie Harry.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Roald Dahl, Who Lost His Daughter to Measles, Writes a Heartbreaking Letter about Vaccinations: “It Is Almost a Crime to Allow Your Child to Go Unimmunised”

dahl vaccine

Image by Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

Generations of us know Roald Dahl as, first and foremost, the author of popular children’s novels like The BFGThe WitchesCharlie and the Chocolate Factory (that book of the “subversive” lost chapter), and James and the Giant Peach. We remember reading those with great delight, and some of us even made it into the rumored literary territory of his “stories for grown-ups.” But few of us, at least if we grew up in the past few decades, will have familiarized ourselves with all the purposes to which Dahl put his pen. Like many fine writers, Dahl always drew something from his personal experience, and few personal experiences could have had as much impact as the sudden death of his measles-stricken seven-year-old daughter Olivia in 1962. A chapter of Donald Sturrock’s biography Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, excerpted at The Telegraph, tells of both the event itself and Dahl’s stoic, writerly (according to some, perhaps too stoic and too writerly) way of handling it.

But good did come out of Dahl’s response to the tragedy. In 1986, he wrote a leaflet for the Sandwell Health Authority entitled Measles: A Dangerous Illness, which tells Olivia’s story and provides a swift and well-supported argument for universal vaccination against the disease:

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

“I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.

Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.


Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.

So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?

They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.

So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.

The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.

Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.

Alas, this message hasn’t quite fallen into irrelevance. What with anti-vaccination movements having somehow picked up a bit of steam in recent years (and with the number of cases of measles cases now climbing again), it might make sense to send Dahl’s leaflet back into print — or, better yet, to keep it circulating far and wide around the internet. Not that others haven’t made cogent pro-vaccination arguments of their own, in different media, with different illustrations of the data, and with different levels of profanity. Take, for instance, Penn and Teller’s segment below, which, finding the perfect target given its mandate against non-evidence-based beliefs, takes aim at the proposition that vaccinations cause autism:

Note: This post originally appeared on site in 2014. Given that the number of reported cases of the measles has just hit a 25 year record in the US–a situation that modern science has made completely avoidable, should people want to avail themselves of vaccinations–we’re bringing the post back.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Is Modern Society Stealing What Makes Us Human?: A Glimpse Into Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra by The Partially Examined Life

Image by Genevieve Arnold

The prologue of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883) introduced his notion of the “last man,” who is no longer creative, no longer exploring, no longer risk taking. He took this to be the implicit aim of efforts to “discover happiness” by figuring out human nature and engineering society to fulfill human needs. If needs are met, no suffering occurs, no effort is needed to counter the suffering, and we all stagnate. Is our technology-enhanced consumer culture well on its way to delivering us up to such a fate?

In the clip below, Mark Linsenmayer from the Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast considers this possibility, explores Nietzsche’s picture of ethics, and concludes that the potential mistake by potential social engineers lies in underestimating the complexity of human needs. As Nietzsche argued, we’re all idiosyncratic, and our needs are not just for peace, warmth, food, exercise and entertainment, but (once these are satisfied, per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) self-actualization, which is an individual pursuit, and so is impossible to mass engineer. Having our more basic needs fulfilled without life-filling effort (i.e. full time jobs) would not leave us complacent but actually free to entertain these “higher needs,” and so to pursue the creative pursuits that Nietzsche thought were the pinnacle of human achievement.

Nietzsche’s target is utilitarianism, which urges individuals and policy-makers to maximize happiness, and the more this is pursued scientifically, the more that “happiness” needs to be reduced to something potentially measurable, like pleasure, but clearly pleasure does not add up to a meaningful life. While we may not be able to quantify meaningfulness and aim public policy in that direction, it should be easier to identify clear obstacles to pursuing meaningful activity, such as illness, poverty, drudgery and servitude. We should be glad that choosing the most ethical path is not a matter of mere calculation, because on Nietzsche’s view, we thrive as “creators of values,” and figuring out for ourselves what makes each us truly happy (what we find valuable) is itself a meaningful activity.

The Partially Examined Life episodes 213 and 214 (forthcoming) provide a 4-man walkthrough of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, exploring the Last Man, the Overman, Will to Power, the declaration that “God Is Dead,” and other notorious ideas.

Episode 213 Part One:

Episode 213 Part Two: 

Mark Linsenmayer is the host of The Partially Examined Life and Nakedly Examined Music podcasts. 

Meet Freddie Mercury and His Faithful Feline Friends

Ooh, you make me so very happy
You give me kisses and I go out of my mind, ooh

Meeow meeow meeow
You’re irresistible – I love you, Delilah
Delilah, I love you.

—Freddie Mercury

Next time you meet a cat called Delilah, ask her if she was named for Freddie Mercury’s #1 Pussycat.

Like many childless adults’ pets, Mercury’s cats loomed large, enjoying nightly phone check-ins when he was on the road, Christmas stockings, and specially prepared food.

Unlike most childless adults’ pets, Mercury’s feline friends allegedly occupied their own bedrooms in his London mansion, and were the main beneficiaries of his will, along with Mary Austin, his close friend and one-time fiancée.

(Following the dissolution of their romance, she floated the idea of having a child together, a proposal he rejected, saying that he would rather have another cat.)

Mercury must’ve taken comfort in knowing that it wasn’t his celebrity the cats were cozying up to, even if they did take advantage of his generosity where fresh chicken and cat toys were concerned.

To them, he was just another human with a can opener, a lap, and a capacity for rock star-sized meltdowns should one of them go missing. (He chucked a hibachi through the window of a guest bedroom when Goliath, his black kitten, went on temporary walkabout.)

Shortly before Mercury’s death, he paid tribute to his favorite, Delilah, in a song his Queen bandmates grudgingly agreed to record, guitarist Brian May even acquiescing to a talk box to achieve the necessary “meow” sounds.

Around the same time, a thoughtful friend arranged for the other members of Mercury’s beloved menagerie to be immortalized on a custom-painted vest, which the singer can be seen sporting in the official music video for Queen’s “These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” as well as his final portrait.

(I’ll have a thought for Freddie next time I’m in my home state, where a trip to the mall reveals any number of similar sartorial displays, most noticeably on ladies resembling my grandmother and her sisters…)

According to Mercury’s personal assistant, Peter “Phoebe” Freestone, most of Mercury’s cat babies were eventually farmed out to other homes, though his “princess”, Delilah, remained in residence with a couple of others, cared for by Austin.

And because there are surely those among our readers burning to know if Freddie Mercury swung both ways, we took a deeper dive through some of Freestone’s memories, and discovered that:

Freddie didn’t particularly like or dislike dogs. He wouldn’t go out of his way to avoid them and he had many friends who had dogs at home. He would play with them and stroke them if they came to him when he was visiting. He just loved cats. He felt that cats were much more independent than dogs and he was very happy that his felines had chosen him to be their master.

Find more picture of Freddie and his cats over at Dangerous Minds, Bored Panda and Vintage Everyday–most of which were taken by Peter Freestone.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City May 13 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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