These Words Are Completely Made Up, But What They Describe Is Painfully Real

The dictionary you never knew you needed.

You know that unsettling emotion you get when desperately waiting for someone to turn up? Well, the Inuit call it iktsuarpok, the feeling of anticipation that makes you look outside to see if anyone's coming.

The English language doesn't have a word for it, but when you think about it, our bodies and minds are bombarded with so many complex sensations throughout the day that it would be impossible to assign a name to each. Still, one man is trying.

John Koenig, a graphic designer and filmmaker from Saint Paul, Minnesota, is doing his best to enrich our vocabulary with his Tumblr blog The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The blog features a series of nonexistent words Koenig invents to describe emotions that otherwise require long explanations.

"One night ten years ago, I found myself watching the end credits of Saturday Night Live. The band always plays this drowsy brassy waltz, but the sax has a weird frenetic joyful solo that's totally out of step with other instruments. I thought there should be a word for that sadness," Koenig told A+ about the start of his make-believe dictionary.


Onism: The awareness of how little of the world you'll experience.

According to Koenig, his words are both real and made-up. 

The artist relies on the concept of realness established by lexicographer Erin McKean: "If you love a word, use it. That makes it real. Being in the dictionary is an arbitrary distinction; it doesn't make a word any more real than any other way."

However, most of Koenig's invented phrases derive from actual words in other languages. He uses bits of French, German, Mandarin and other to construct unique names for the sorrows people experience.

Yu Yi: The desire to feel intensely again.

Anemoia: Nostalgia for a time you've never known.

"I'm fascinated by the idea of new words. It's like a gesture of recognition or respect for a specific feeling, implying that some faint inner vibe is somehow important and shared. Makes you feel less alone," Koenig said of the way his project makes him feel.

Koenig captures and documents the feelings as he goes through the day. He also gets suggestions from his online readers and says it's tremendously helpful to know he's not alone in feeling what he's feeling. 

Vemödalen: The fear that everything has already been done.

But does anyone use these fictional words in their actual conversations?

Koenig says probably not. 

"I get emails from people just glad that the word exists, but honestly, I think more people get tattoos of my words than use them casually in conversation," he told A+.

Sonder: The realization that everyone has a story.

Oleka: The awareness of how few days are memorable.

Opia: The ambiguous intensity of eye contact.

After receiving positive feedback from the online community, Koenig took his project a step further and started making videos to illustrate some of the words from his blog. He hopes that the next step will be an actual published book.

"The book has been the goal from the beginning, the kind of dream that's fruitful enough in my head. I love the idea of an entire imaginary dictionary, the prospect of transforming a vision into something real," Koenig said.

To see the entire web series of John Koenig's "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows," visit his YouTube channel. But before that, check out a few more of his invented words that we couldn't help but fall in love with.

hanker sore
adj. finding a person so attractive it actually kinda pisses you off.

n. the habit of forgetting how important someone is to you until you see them again in person.

the bends
n. frustration that you're not enjoying an experience as much as you should.

n. the smallest measurable unit of human connection, typically exchanged between passing strangers — a flirtatious glance, a sympathetic nod, a shared laugh about some odd coincidence.

n. a relationship or friendship that you can't get out of your head, which you thought had faded long ago but is still somehow alive and unfinished.

mal de coucou
n. a phenomenon in which you have an active social life but very few close friends.

n. the feeling that no matter what you do is always somehow wrong — that any attempt to make your way comfortably through the world will only end up crossing some invisible taboo.

Sorry not sorry, but we're going to use these in every conversation from now on.

Cover image via Shutterstock.

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