I am a lover of language.
I adore aphorisms. I moon over malapropisms. I can’t get enough of witty wordplays. And then there are things that take it to the next level completely.
I wrote a few weeks back about how I dig on inventing words — I think all writers do, for that matter — but for me, it’s something I just noodle with, inventing a word to suit the moment. More often, I’ll simply invent a word to fit a dumb little alliterative pattern, or worse, bend and break a word to rhyme it. But the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig is next level word genesis.
His postulate — that other languages have words for complicated concepts, while English lacks the words for similar artful expression — is one that I’ve bemoaned, but Koenig takes the matter straight to the mat. He not only invents words in an academic fashion (spinning together etymologies of Greek, German, Chinese and so on), he creates hauntingly beautiful videos to illustrate the concepts. Sounds a little bit hokey or pretentious, but his creations are elegant in their simplicity.
Take, for example, the cynical angst of Vemodalen: the frustration at the knowledge that everything you do, every creative endeavor you pursue, everything, in fact, that makes you unique, is as subtly differentiated and as lasting as a snowflake on the wind. Sure, no snowflake is exactly like another, but who gives a sharknado in a blizzard of billions?
Or, perhaps the quiet reverent awe of Socha is more your flavor; that realization that other people are not merely supporting roles in the great sprawling film of your life, but that they are the protagonists in their own stories, and you are just an extra at a coffee shop. The shift in perspective could dislocate your spine.
Maybe, rather, you’re a parent (like me) experiencing Yu yi on an almost daily basis: the desire to experience the world through new eyes again as only a newborn can, casting aside expectation and the monotony of the routine to be delighted by the delicate staccato of raindrops in a pond, or the graceful carving of the sky by birds’ wings. It’s a great sadness that we can never again know the world with the joy and wonder of a newborn, but we can live it vicariously through them.
At any rate, if you’re a wordnerd like me, you owe it to yourself to take a glance at the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. There’s not much else like it on the web, much though our Vemodalen might tell us otherwise.