The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

It seems that I should begin a new blogging category called, Things I’ve only just caught up on. Am I the last person to discover this on-line dictionary, that attempts to ‘fill a hole in the language‘? Maybe not, there are an awful lot of ideas getting threaded into the web.

According to Wikipedia, John Koenig began his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows in 2006, when he was trying to write poetry, and couldn’t find a precise word for the emotion he wanted to convey. I’ve been there, convinced that there should be a single, perfect word for some feeling or idea I’ve got, if only I could figure out the correct search terms for the Thesaurus.

Eventually I generally conclude that there are two solutions to my problem:

  1. I’m in the early stages of dementia.
  2. There never was such a word and the truth is:
    1. I’ve confused another word with it that sounds like it might mean what I want, but actually conveys something opposite, or lateral. This means that:
      1. I don’t read enough
      2. I don’t think about what I read, often enough
  3. Which leads me to realise that I can’t count, even when I use the alphabet in more than one form, so:
    1. It is possible I’m experiencing the early stages of dementia.
    2. I’m obsessing about a common phenomena that I’ve experienced throughout my life and I should ‘get over it’ and move on.

All of which doesn’t stop me from being haunted by the existence of that word I was looking for in the first place, and that’s where John Koenig’s dictionary comes into play. By the simple fact of it’s existence, it offers reassurance.

Firstly, because clearly I’m not alone.

Secondly, because a lexicographer is busy creating some of the words that I might need. For instance I think this comes close to my lost-vocabulary problem:

fitzcarraldo an image that somehow becomes lodged deep in your brainโ€”maybe washed there by a dream, or smuggled inside a book, or planted during a casual conversationโ€”which then grows into a wild and impractical vision that keeps scrambling back and forth in your head like a dog stuck in a car thatโ€™s about to arrive home, just itching for a chance to leap headlong into reality.

In case this seems too wordy, Koenig has also created some visual definitions that could be used to fill in the gaps in my vocabulary.

Why do I love words? Because they’re playful, like us, and continually evolving.

34 thoughts on “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

  1. Cath, you have certainly outlined a major problem – getting exactly the right word. The trouble is you then have to get other people to agree with your definition of that word ….

    Have you come across

    This book was produced in the 1980’s and is an obscure goldmine for mainly lighthearted words that ought to exist, but don’t, yet.
    Thanks for the post – it really brightens the day!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the link, Mike. I’m off for a browse now. I love word-play, but your first point is close to my serious feelings about this, that for creative writers, more than one word is part of the point…


  2. Inaccurate use of words and misunderstandings caused by inaccurate use or double entendres or loss of word memory cause most of the problems in our lives between people – perhaps we should keep our mouths shut at all times? (Except when we put food in, of course…..
    yes. I used to love words to a much greater extent – when I could remember them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I take your point, Sheephoarder, words used maliciously are sharper and harder than stones. But I’d be sorry if we were all restricted to words that had one simple meaning, and I’m not sure there are any. I’d be sorrier still if we all had to keep our mouths shut at all times – I’m relieved that you’d allow food – and presumably drink. This sounds like the basis for a story, to me ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Sorry about that, Darlene. I’m glad you enjoyed the video clip though, and I promise that first thought was only a fleeting part of the process. I agree, it’s not healthy to become focused on future developments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. In the way one hunts for a fitting word, I came across this enchanting Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, an ongoing expanding work. Meant to share my delight about the project and then the thought slipped by. Thanks for reminding me. โ˜ผ If I remember right John Koenig welcomes contributions.
    The clip on onism re: the empty places on a map reminded me of a quote by Paul Verilo:
    ‘What would we be without the help of what does not exist?’

    Liked by 3 people

    • Glad to be of use, Ashen.
      Yes, it does look like there are plenty of contributors to this project. I didn’t check out how that works, but it could be an interesting exercise to compile an entry.

      Thanks for the quote, I’m going to add that to my collection.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What a wonderful resource. I had a little poke about in this fascinating dictionary and found ‘zenosyne’ – the sense that time is going faster. Oh so true, particularly as today another birthday has come around, and not just a day earlier than last year!
    Thanks for putting it out there for us, Cath ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Cath – After a fruitful morning of research (!) I came across this list of words which already exist in other languages and so do not need to be made up:

    I like the one which is the most succinct : Mamihlapinatapai

    …but this word searching can go on forever, since the Internet has so many pages.

    For all our sakes, Cath, I shall retreat back into the teapot – and continue my “researches” there, out of harms way.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Apparently I’ve been locked up and clueless in my office for a very long time. Sometimes I feel like asking, “if Puck was kicked out of the Real World house yet.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I never heard of this dictionary, either, and it sounds BRILLIANT. I must also be in those early stages of dementia, too, considering I also reach for words that apparently don’t exist. We need to work as our own Shakespeares and create a vocab, weeeeee! (Oh, it’s def dementia here, lol)

    Liked by 1 person

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