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So the other day I was driving to Madison, Wisconsin to visit my very dear friends and their new baby. I was already full of feelings.

I was on my own in the car, so I was listening to a podcast, a TED Radio Hour podcast, to be specific, and I heard about a wonderful thing.

There is a person named John Koenig who created an online dictionary of words that he has come up with to describe particular facets of the human emotional experience that are not easily described in standard English.

It is called the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.  You can watch the TED talk that John gives here.

I was so interested in this blog and the talk and the upcoming book I quick grabbed my iPhone and told Siri to write a note.  I noted the website and book name. Then I  thought on the subject for many miles.

Finally, around the Dells, I decided that I wanted to write about these words and ideas for several reasons:

  • As a [generally] optimistic person, I don’t often feel sorrowful. But when I do, I like to wallow a bit and be okay with the fact that it’s ok to be sad sometimes It helps me process the thing that is making me sad in the first place and then I am better able to move on more quickly.
  • This talk helped to remind me that wallowing is normal and we can do it confidently knowing that others have wallowed before. (Wallowing is not to be confused with depression. Depression is a real chemical imbalance that I have experience with. It should be treated with care and addressed by doctors and given support through with loved ones)
  • The words that Mr. Koenig invents are beautiful. As a lover of books, writing, and language, every new word of his is a joy to read. I hear it in my brain. I can sometimes recognize (or imagine) where the root word is derived from. And  I feel my love of linguistics and sense of community with the world renewed.
  • One important point of the dictionary is to remind us that sadness comes in many forms. It is not just one thing, it will never be just one thing, and that is ok.
  • It is also, as I stated above, something that many others experience. The emotions are so succinctly described in the definitions of new words that they leave me with a tangible sentiment of empathy.  I often get the shivers, knowing that others experience the same feelings from time to time as well.

So, my goal in this portion of my blog is to pick a new word every few days or so from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and match it with a story and a photograph. If I can, I will use my own photography, if not I will use a stock photo. I’ll try to let you know which it is.

Once I pick a word, I’ll write a story. Most of them will be true. Some will be slightly fictionalized.

I’ll post it here. I would LOVE to hear from you as well, my dear readers, about how you feel about these words too! Please post any stories, contact me, or write your thoughts on my FB page.

Without further ado, here is my first week’s post on a word from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, words created and defined by John Koenig.



n. a kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done purely for its own sake

We went to dinner the other day. A celebration. A marriage, I think it was. It was a long table, the plates were retro, all different designs. There were tall glass windows looking out at the busy city street in the bright, clear light of a below-zero winter day. Everything felt like crystal.

The newlywed husband had ordered an old-fashioned. And upon its arrival, he was stunned into a child-like rapture at the discovery of the perfectly clear, large, square ice cube inside. He held up the glass, turned it this way and that, and exclaimed over and over at how perfect it was. He stuck his fingers in the drink to lift out the cube (much to my dismay as his spilled some whiskey) and peered through it even more closely to inspect its bubble-less depths.

The detail-centered trance that set upon my friend was not so melancholic, as the word ambedo describes, but I felt a bit of melancholy myself after I ordered my own old-fashioned (being a whiskey aficionado myself).

My glass arrived, and the ice cube inside was just as clear as my friend’s.  I picked up my glass. I turned it one way and another.  The square ice cube inside the cylindrical glass stayed nearly invisible. It was clear as the wintery air outside.

It was also breakable. I saw a slight bubble in one corner of the cube. I watched a fork drop from the table to bounce on the floor with a clang. I heard and ignored the din of restaurant noise around me. I listened to my friend exclaim at the wonder of such clear, perfect, manufactured ice. I had a flash of dying polar bears on thin ice in the Arctic. I noticed the dripping sweat of the glass in the perfectly climatized room. I saw the breath of a man holding his wool cap out on the corner.

In all of this chaos, in all of the motion and emotion, I found immobility. I saw it in the ice that stood still while the glass turned round and round. I felt myself, standing ontop the earth, as it rotated and spun beneath me. I lifted the drink and saw the water sloshing, the straw swaying. The ice was stuck, for its time, wedged into the circle of the vessel.  I immersed myself in the thought of that cube. A square in a circle. Happiness in an ice cube. Being smooshed into a space where you know that you fit but you are not sure you belong.

Being alive and not sure quite how. Or why. Getting lost the ice cube, the swirling, the sweat. That, for me, is ambedo.




Thank you for reading.

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