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How a man with a love of words created a dictionary for our most complex emotions

Got a particularly hard-to-describe feeling? Don't worry—there's a word for that.

Obscure Sorrows, defining, newly minted words, emotions
Image pulled from YouTube video linked to website.

Unique words defining emotions beyond the scope of a typical dictionary.

What if you needed a word for something that you can't quite define? Where would you turn?

Have you ever tried to explain something but gave up because the person you're talking to wouldn't be able to relate? Or worse yet, there's not an actual word for what you're trying to explain?


Well, there's a word for that feeling: exulansis.

Haven't heard that term before? How about this one:

Anecdoche — a conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening.

No? How about this:

Opia — the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye.

Now, before you start doubting your own vocabulary skills, you won't find those words in any of the major dictionaries. Instead, they come from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a collection of newly minted words for life's hard-to-define feelings.

So, these words aren't real? Well, it's not quite that simple.

Dictionary of (@ObscureSorrows) / Twitter

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What makes something a "real" word?

It's a word that's found in the dictionary, you might say. That leads to an entirely separate question: Whose dictionary? Merriam-Webster? Oxford? Cambridge? Urban?

The truth is that language is ever-changing, and what one might say is a "fake" word today could very well be a "real" word tomorrow (or within a few years, at least).

In June 2015, the Oxford English Dictionary added a handful of new words to its rolls, including "Interweb," "jeggings," "hot mess," "crowdfunding," and "cisgender." Will all of these words stick with us for the long haul? Almost certainly not. Still, in the mind of OED's editors, those words are just as real as any others.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, on the other hand, contains many useful terms that you won't find in a traditional dictionary ... yet.

You'll find words like "Vellichor" ("The strange wistfulness of used bookshops") and "Adronitis" ("Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone") buried within the dictionary's six-year history.

While some terms come off as, well, obscure, others seem to fill meaningful voids left by the limitations of language for common emotions.

Its existence feels almost otherworldly, like spells from the mind of J.K. Rowling.

"I've been writing a dictionary of emotions for about five years, and still the most common question I get is, 'Are these words real?'" Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows creator John Koenig told Upworthy over email.

To answer that question, Koenig says (emphasis mine):

"One answer is an obvious 'no,' [they're not real] because you couldn't find them in a leather-bound dictionary — and because I create them myself by twisting together word roots from any one of a dozen different languages, from French, Japanese and Mayan to my personal favorite, Greek.

On the other hand, of course these words are real, because in reality there is no such thing. A word is not like a gold coin that you bite to tell whether it's counterfeit, so you might be able to trade it for a mule. It becomes real when it's spoken and understood. And by that standard, I've seen some of my words (particularly 'sonder') used earnestly in many different conversations online. Are they all wrong? Is 'sonder' any less meaningful because it hasn't yet been enshrined on the page of a leather-bound book? After all, almost every word in the Oxford English Dictionary has a birthdate, a notation of its first recorded use, back when it was just a yawp of nonsense that only made sense to one person, then two. All words were born this way."

Here's "sonder" by the way:

When it comes to how we think about words, popularity is often a stand-in for legitimacy.

You might not find the verb "retweeted" in the dictionary on your bookshelf, but it's an understood term. Koenig has thoughts on that, as well:

"So then, does realness require the blessing of popular use? How many millions of people does it take to change the word 'literally' to mean 'figuratively'? Is a word still alive if only one person knows its meaning? Or is that too far?"

"Personally, I think words should exist for their own sake, regardless of how they are used," Koenig says, pointing out that our language is particularly lacking when it comes to describing emotions.

"When I post a new definition or a new episode of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, I often have no idea if anyone else out there feels the emotion I'm trying to pin down. Because it's a one-man show, it's totally possible that it's just me. So then this question about realness [of a word] becomes just another way of asking, 'Am I the only person who feels this way?'"

Koenig isn't alone in his curiosity about the authenticity of words. English professor Anne Curzan gave a TED Talk on this exact topic.

During her talk, Curzan recounts someone asking her if "defriend" is a "real word." She wound up in the same sort of existential rabbit hole:

"What makes a word real? My dinner companion and I both know what the verb 'defriend' means, so when does a new word like 'defriend' become real? Who has the authority to make those kinds of official decisions about words, anyway?"

Here's Curzan giving her TED Talk "What makes a word 'real'?" in March 2014.


She touched on the process of words making their way into the dictionary. This might seem like a stale topic, but it's pretty fascinating.

To her, dictionary editors are similar to anthropologists — that's a way most of us probably hadn't thought about them before (if we thought about them at all).

"So how does a word get into a dictionary? It gets in because we use it and we keep using it, and dictionary editors are paying attention to us. If you're thinking, 'But that lets all of us decide what words mean,' I would say, 'Yes it does, and it always has.'

Dictionaries are a wonderful guide and resource, but there is no objective dictionary authority out there that is the final arbiter about what words mean. If a community of speakers is using a word and knows what it means, it's real. That word might be slangy, that word might be informal, that word might be a word that you think is illogical or unnecessary, but that word that we're using, that word is real."

So, what makes a "real" word? That's entirely up to you.

This article originally appeared on 07.02.15

Health

4 simple hacks to help you meet your healthy eating goals

Trying to eat healthier? Try these 4 totally doable tricks.

Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Most of us want to eat healthier but need some help to make it happen.

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When it comes to choosing what to eat, we live in a uniquely challenging era. Never before have humans known more about nutrition and how to eat for optimal health, and yet we’ve never been more surrounded by distractions and temptations that derail us from making healthy choices.

Some people might be able to decide “I’m going to eat healthier!” and do so without any problem, but those folks are unicorns. Most of us know what we should do, but need a little help making it happen—like some simple hacks, tips and tricks for avoiding pitfalls on the road to healthier eating.

While recognizing that what works for one person may not work for another, here are some helpful habits and approaches that might help you move closer to your healthy eating goals.

man pulling chip out of a chip bagOur mouths loves chips. Our bodies not so much.Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Goal: Snack on less junk food

Tip: Focus your willpower on the grocery store, not your home

Willpower is a limited commodity for most of us, and it is no match for a bag of potato chips sitting on top of the fridge. It’s just a fact. Channeling your willpower at the grocery store can save you from having to fight that battle at home. If you don’t bring chips into your house in the first place, you’ll find it a lot easier to reach for something healthier.

The key to successful shopping trips is to always go to the store with a specific list and a full stomach—you’ll feel much less tempted to buy the junky snack foods if you’re already satiated. Also, finding healthier alternatives that will still satisfy your cravings for salty or crunchy, or fatty foods helps. Sugar snap peas have a surprisingly satisfying crunch, apples and nut butter hit that sweet-and-salty craving, etc.

slice of cakeYou can eat well without giving up sweets completely.Photo by Caitlyn de Wild on Unsplash

Goal: Eat less sugar

Tip: Instead of “deprive,” think “delay” or “decrease and delight”

Sugar is a tricky one. Some people find it easier to cut out added sugars altogether, but that can create an all-or-nothing mindset that all too often results in “all.” Eating more whole foods and less processed foods can help us cut out a lot of ancillary sugar, but we still live in a world with birthday cakes and dessert courses.

One approach to dessert temptation is to delay instead of deprive. Tell yourself you can have any sweet you want…tomorrow. This mental trick flips the “I’ll just indulge today and start eating healthier tomorrow” idea on its head. It’s a lot easier to resist something you know you can have tomorrow than to say no to something you think you’ll never get to have again.

Another approach when you really want to enjoy a dessert at that moment is to decrease the amount and really truly savor it. Eat each bite slowly, delighting in the full taste and satisfaction of it. As soon as that delight starts to diminish, even a little, stop eating. You’ve gotten what you wanted out of it. You don’t have to finish it. (After all, you can always have more tomorrow!)

colorful fresh food on a plateA naturally colorful meal is a healthy meal.Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

Goal: Eat healthier meals

Tip: Focus on fresh foods and plan meals ahead of time

Meal planning is easier than ever before. The internet is filled with countless tools—everything from recipes to shopping lists to meal planning apps—and it’s as awesome as it is overwhelming.

Planning ahead takes the guesswork and decision fatigue out of cooking, preventing the inevitable “Let’s just order a pizza.” You can have a repeating 3-week or 4-week menu of your favorite meals so you never have to think about what you’re going to eat, or you can meal plan once a week to try new recipes and keep things fresh.

It might help to designate one day a week to “shop and chop”—getting and prepping the ingredients for the week’s meals so they’re ready to go in your fridge or freezer.

woman holding blueberries in her handsOrganic foods are better for the Earth and for us.Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

Goal: Eat more organic/humanely raised food

Tip: Utilize the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15” lists to prioritize

Many people choose organic because they want to avoid pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals. Organic food is also better for the planet, and according to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that organic produce is higher in certain nutrients.

Most people don’t buy everything organic, but there are some foods that should take priority over others. Each year, researchers from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyze thousands of samples of dozens of fruits and vegetables. From this data, they create a list of the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” fruits and vegetables, indicating what produce has the most and least pesticide residue. These lists give people a good place to start focusing their transition to more organic foods.

To make organic eating even simpler, you can shop O Organics® at your local Albertsons or Safeway stores. The O Organics brand offers a wide range of affordable USDA-certified organic products in every aisle. If you’re focusing on fresh foods, O Organics produce is always grown without synthetic pesticides, is farmed to conserve biodiversity, and is always non-GMO. All animal-based O Organics products are certified humane as well. Even switching part of your grocery list to organic can make a positive impact on the planet and the people you feed.

Healthy eating habits don’t have to be all or nothing, and they don’t have to be complicated. A few simple mindset changes at home and habit changes at the grocery store can make a big difference.

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