January 10, 2013

Obscure pleasures


The Atlantic ran a story on its blog earlier this week about the many emotions for which English does not have words. Some examples include the euphoria first experienced upon falling in love, the desire to squeeze something cute, the feeling one might have after receiving a bad haircut.

There are many others.

Fortunately, the fine people at So Bad So Good have compiled a list of foreign language words for these and other emotions/situations that, while not exactly easy to pronounce, might be used to fill in English’s lexical gaps.

Age-otori (Japanese): To look worse after a haircut

Backpfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist

Bakku-shan (Japanese): A beautiful girl … as long as she’s being viewed from behind

Forelsket (Norwegian): The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love

Gigil (pronounced Gheegle; Filipino): The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute

L’esprit de l’escalier (French): usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it

Pena ajena (Mexican Spanish): The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation

Pochemuchka (Russian): a person who asks a lot of questions

Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky

Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery

Existing in a parallel, stranger world is The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which, according to its Facebook page, is “The Upper Midwest’s third-largest compendium of the outer spatters of the emotional palette. Our mission is to harpoon, bag and tag wild sorrows then release them back into the subconscious.”

The Dictionary’s author is John Koenig — no, not that Koenig — who calls himself a “creative serf” based in St. Paul, MN. Koenig has been at work on the project since 2009, and the compilation of invented, repurposed, twisted-up words is an offbeat pleasure to read.

Boston University’s literary magazine Clarion published an illustrated excerpt over the summer, including:

karmapol n. The imaginary committee of elders who keep a running log of your mistakes, steadily building their case that you’re secretly a fraud, a coward, a doofus and a douche, and who would have successfully revoked your good fortune years ago had they not been held up during council by bitter squabblings over grammar and spelling.

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

 adomania n. The crushing feeling that the future is arriving ahead of schedule, that all years with fanciful nameslike “Two Thousand Eleven” are bursting from their hypothetical cages into the arena of the present, furiously bucking your grip as you slip, one hand reaching for the reins, the other waving high like a school-kid who knows the answer to the question.

ellipsism n.The sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out, that you’ll dutifully pass on the joke of being alive without ever learning the punchline—the name of the beneficiary of all human struggle, the sum of the final payout of every investment ever made in the future—which may not suit your sense of humor anyway.

These and more than 1,000 other words and definitions can (and should!) be read at The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.




Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.