Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

(Published in Business Standard on May 18 2013)

Those of us who like to complain, cannot stand those of you who keep banging on about the glass being half full. Know that there is a time and a place for your optimism, and that that time and place is far, far away from us. There are things we wish to dwell on and wallow in in peace, because dwelling and wallowing makes everything better.

The problem is that even the best, most skilled and experienced of moaners often runs into a linguistic wall. You can feel the feeling exactly, it’s right there, but the available lexicon doesn’t quite do it justice. Nothing messes with a good bellyache like having to shout incoherently because you don’t have the right vocabulary. Well, the wait is over. It’s called The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

I heard about it at a recent book launch. Writer and editor Anita Roy used a couple of words from the Dictionary to help her describe things in the book being launched, unwittingly setting off a thrill, in my whiner’s heart, that was very much like spotting the object of your affections when you don’t expect to. Now the Dictionary is the object of my affections. The author, John Koenig, writes: “Its mission is to harpoon, bag and tag wild sorrows, then release them back into the subconscious.”

Koenig nails down unbelievably slippery feelings, and coins etymologically sound words for them. (Unlike the six-step Wikihow entry on coining words, which makes you want to swallow your own tongue: “Step one: Get inspiration. Step two: Write the word.” Really.) His entry kairosclerosis, for instance, comes from the Greek ‘kairos’ which means an opportune moment, and “sclerosis”, or hardening. “Kairosclerosis n. the moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savor the feeling—which prompts your intellect to identify it, pick it apart and put it in context, where it will slowly dissolve until it’s little more than an aftertaste.”

The Dictionary addresses shades of melancholy via a huge range of emotion. Koenig is a writer to be reckoned with. He’s enormously creative, and he understands the power, life force, and funniness of sadness. The Dictionary is the kind of thing you want to print and bind, and refer to often. A couple of sample entries:

“Apomakrysmenophobia n. fear that your connections with people are ultimately shallow, that although your relationships feel congenial at the time, an audit of your life would produce an emotional safety deposit box of low-interest holdings and uninvested windfall profits, which will indicate you were never really at risk of joy, sacrifice or loss.”

“Dialecstatic adj. hearing a person with a thick accent pronounce a certain phrase—the Texan ‘cooler’, the South African ‘bastard’, the Kiwi ‘thirty years ago’—and wanting them to repeat it over and over until the vowels pool in the air and congeal into a linguistic taffy you could break apart and give as presents.”

“Kuebiko n. a state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence, which force you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out all unwelcome and invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface, and propping yourself up like an old scarecrow, who’s bursting at the seams but powerless to do anything but stand there and watch.”

“Gnasche n. the intense desire to bite deeply into the forearm of someone you love.”

Please google it. You will thank me, unless you’re one of those tedious bright-side bots. You are free to thank me in wine bottles, twenty percent of which will go to Anita. She knows where to look up the perfect word for exactly how lousy a deal that is.

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