Unnamed feelings

For writers and artists, feelings play a big role in what motivates us to create, and they are also important for the characters we create. Many feelings are hard to spot and to name. Exploring them can yield rewards.

“Odd Emotions,” an article by Rebecca Webber (Psychology Today, Jan/Feb 2016), discusses the treasure trove of unnamed feelings. As the article explains, simply being aware of feelings gives us more insight into our perpetually changing inner lives, and naming them can help us feel that we are participating in a shared human experience and can empower us to respond appropriately.

One language or culture may have a name for a feeling that another language or culture does not. Feelings may be nameable in principle and, if they don’t have names, it may simply be that no one has named them yet or that the name is not yet widely known or translated. Webber gives the example of the Norwegian word vardogr that refers to “a premonitory sound or sight of a person before he or she arrives.” Finnish also has such a word, “but not English.”

Webber quotes Lisa Feldman Barrett, the author of How Emotions Are Made, as sharing her position that emotions are caused by the brain “categorizing sensations, making them meaningful so you know what they are and what you should do about them.” But emotions are not neatly divided even into primary types. From a brain science perspective, emotions are complex and overlapping.

 

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

 

Webber also refers to the work of writer and artist John Koenig whose long-term project The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a portfolio of his invented names for feelings. It is a Tumblr blog, a YouTube, and a forthcoming book from Simon & Schuster. One person, reflecting on a work situation, remembered that “her stress was infinitesimally small in the context of all the time that had passed before she was born, and all that would go on long after her death.” For this feeling, Koenig coined the term “moriturism,” based on the Latin term memento mori (“remember to die”). Koenig has also come up with the name “exulansis” to describe “a sense of frustration when you realize that you are trying to talk about an important experience, but other people are unable to understand or relate to it, so you give up.”

Another woman quoted by Webber mentioned “a ‘deflated’ variation of schadenfreude, which she describes as when someone ‘finally comes around to your point of view or is served a very cold helping of karma, but sadly, you’ve matured past the point of really caring anymore.'”

Two women in white dresses with black sleeves are holding hands. The text of
Part of the original photo by Guzman, as laid out in the article “Odd Emotions” for Psychology Today.

Take a look at the article “Odd Emotions” and see what resonates with you. Is there a word for the special feeling of that resonation? What does it mean for your writing and art?

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