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Pop Culture

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

twitter.com

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

Island School Class, circa 1970s.

Parents, do you think your child would be able to survive if they were transported back to the '70s or '80s? Could they live at a time before the digital revolution put a huge chunk of our lives online?

These days, everyone has a phone in their pocket, but before then, if you were in public and needed to call someone, you used a pay phone. Can you remember the last time you stuck 50 cents into one and grabbed the grubby handset?

According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, roughly 100,000 pay phones remain in the U.S., down from 2 million in 1999.

Do you think a 10-year-old kid would have any idea how to use a payphone in 2022? Would they be able to use a Thomas Guide map to find out how to get somewhere? If they stepped into a time warp and wound up in 1975, could they throw a Led Zeppelin album on the record player at a party?


Another big difference between now and life in the '70s and '80s has been public attitudes toward smoking cigarettes. In 1965, 42.4% of Americans smoked and now, it’s just 12.5%. This sea change in public opinion about smoking means there are fewer places where smoking is deemed acceptable.

But in the early '80s, you could smoke on a bus, on a plane, in a movie theater, in restaurants, in the classroom and even in hospitals. How would a child of today react if their third grade teacher lit up a heater in the middle of math class?

Dan Wuori, senior director of early learning at the Hunt Institute, tweeted that his high school had a smoking area “for the kids.” He then asked his followers to share “something you experienced as a kid that would blow your children’s minds.”


A lot of folks responded with stories of how ubiquitous smoking was when they were in school. While others explained that life was perilous for a kid, whether it was the school playground equipment or questionable car seats.

Here are a few responses that’ll show today’s kids just how crazy life used to be in the '70s and '80s.

First of all, let’s talk about smoking.

Want to call someone? Need to get picked up from baseball practice? You can’t text mom or dad, you’ll have to grab a quarter and use a pay phone.

People had little regard for their kids’ safety or health.

You could buy a soda in school.

Things were a lot different before the internet.

Remember pen pals?

A lot of people bemoan the fact that the children of today aren’t as tough as they were a few decades back. But that’s probably because the parents of today are better attuned to their kids’ needs so they don't have to cheat death to make it through the day.

But just imagine how easy parenting would be if all you had to do was throw your kids a bag of Doritos and a Coke for lunch and you never worried about strapping them into a car seat?


This article originally appeared on 06.08.22

Michael B. Jordan speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic Con International, for "Black Panther", at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.

As long as humans have endeavored to do anything great, there have been those who have tried to take them down. These are the opposite of the creators in life: the bullies, haters and naysayers who only want to bring people down to their level.

But when you have a dream and desire, its easy to tune out the voices of negativity. "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better,” Theodore Roosevelt once said. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."

Some folks use the naysayers as fuel to push them to work even harder. Basketball legend Michael Jordan was infamous for letting his thirst for revenge drive him to even greater heights on the court.


Another Michael Jordan, "Black Panther" star, Michael B. Jordan, came face to face with someone who doubted that he could reach his dreams, and he wasn’t shy about letting her know that he remembered. What's Upworthy about the encounter is that he did so with class and confidence.

In 2023, Jordan was on the red carpet for the premiere of "Creed III," a film he starred in and directed. He was interviewed by “The Morning Hustle” radio show host Lore’l, who had recently admitted on the “Undressing Room” podcast that she used to make fun of him in school.

“You know what’s so crazy? I went to school with Michael B. Jordan at a point in life,” Lore’l said. “And to be honest with you, we teased him all the damn time because his name was Michael Jordan. Let’s start there, and he was no Michael Jordan.”

“He also would come to school with a headshot,” she added. “We lived in Newark. That’s the hood. We would make fun of him like, ‘What you gonna do with your stupid headshot?’ And now look at him!”

In addition, her co-host, Eva Marcille, referred to Jordan as “corny.”

Jordan had no problem discussing their past on the red carpet. “We go way back, all the way back to Chad Science [Academy] in Newark,” Lore’l told the actor. Oh yeah, I was the corny kid, right?” Jordan responded with a smirk.

“No, you did not hear me say that! I said we used to make fun of the name,” Lore’l said.

“I heard it,” Jordan said. “I heard it. It’s all good. What’s up?” he responded. “But yeah, [you are] obviously killing things out here…you’re not corny anymore,” Lore’l clarified.

After the exchange went viral, Lore’l admitted that she teased Jordan in school, but they were only classmates for one year.

“So the narrative that I bullied him all throughout high school—this was 7th grade. We were like 12 years old, and everyone made fun of each other,” Lore’l said. “That was school, you know. That was one year. And, again, I’ve never bullied him. That just sounds so outrageous to me.”

Jordan later shared some advice on how to deal with bullies.

"Just stay focused, just stay locked in,” he told a reporter from Complex. “You know, just follow your heart, try to block out the noise and distractions as much as possible and run your race. Don't compare yourself to anybody else. Just keep going."

Science

A juice company dumped orange peels in a national park. Here's what it looks like now.

12,000 tons of food waste and 21 years later, this forest looks totally different.


In 1997, ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs approached an orange juice company in Costa Rica with an off-the-wall idea.

In exchange for donating a portion of unspoiled, forested land to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste — a nature preserve in the country's northwest — the park would allow the company to dump its discarded orange peels and pulp, free of charge, in a heavily grazed, largely deforested area nearby.

One year later, one thousand trucks poured into the national park, offloading over 12,000 metric tons of sticky, mealy, orange compost onto the worn-out plot.



The site was left untouched and largely unexamined for over a decade. A sign was placed to ensure future researchers could locate and study it.

16 years later, Janzen dispatched graduate student Timothy Treuer to look for the site where the food waste was dumped.

Treuer initially set out to locate the large placard that marked the plot — and failed.

The first deposit of orange peels in 1996.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"It's a huge sign, bright yellow lettering. We should have been able to see it," Treuer says. After wandering around for half an hour with no luck, he consulted Janzen, who gave him more detailed instructions on how to find the plot.

When he returned a week later and confirmed he was in the right place, Treuer was floored. Compared to the adjacent barren former pastureland, the site of the food waste deposit was "like night and day."

The site of the orange peel deposit (L) and adjacent pastureland (R).

Photo by Leland Werden.

"It was just hard to believe that the only difference between the two areas was a bunch of orange peels. They look like completely different ecosystems," he explains.

The area was so thick with vegetation he still could not find the sign.

Treuer and a team of researchers from Princeton University studied the site over the course of the following three years.

The results, published in the journal "Restoration Ecology," highlight just how completely the discarded fruit parts assisted the area's turnaround.

The ecologists measured various qualities of the site against an area of former pastureland immediately across the access road used to dump the orange peels two decades prior. Compared to the adjacent plot, which was dominated by a single species of tree, the site of the orange peel deposit featured two dozen species of vegetation, most thriving.

Lab technician Erik Schilling explores the newly overgrown orange peel plot.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

In addition to greater biodiversity, richer soil, and a better-developed canopy, researchers discovered a tayra (a dog-sized weasel) and a giant fig tree three feet in diameter, on the plot.

"You could have had 20 people climbing in that tree at once and it would have supported the weight no problem," says Jon Choi, co-author of the paper, who conducted much of the soil analysis. "That thing was massive."

Recent evidence suggests that secondary tropical forests — those that grow after the original inhabitants are torn down — are essential to helping slow climate change.

In a 2016 study published in Nature, researchers found that such forests absorb and store atmospheric carbon at roughly 11 times the rate of old-growth forests.

Treuer believes better management of discarded produce — like orange peels — could be key to helping these forests regrow.

In many parts of the world, rates of deforestation are increasing dramatically, sapping local soil of much-needed nutrients and, with them, the ability of ecosystems to restore themselves.

Meanwhile, much of the world is awash in nutrient-rich food waste. In the United States, up to half of all produce in the United States is discarded. Most currently ends up in landfills.

The site after a deposit of orange peels in 1998.

Photo by Dan Janzen.

"We don't want companies to go out there will-nilly just dumping their waste all over the place, but if it's scientifically driven and restorationists are involved in addition to companies, this is something I think has really high potential," Treuer says.

The next step, he believes, is to examine whether other ecosystems — dry forests, cloud forests, tropical savannas — react the same way to similar deposits.

Two years after his initial survey, Treuer returned to once again try to locate the sign marking the site.

Since his first scouting mission in 2013, Treuer had visited the plot more than 15 times. Choi had visited more than 50. Neither had spotted the original sign.

In 2015, when Treuer, with the help of the paper's senior author, David Wilcove, and Princeton Professor Rob Pringle, finally found it under a thicket of vines, the scope of the area's transformation became truly clear.

The sign after clearing away the vines.

Photo by Tim Treuer.

"It's a big honking sign," Choi emphasizes.

19 years of waiting with crossed fingers had buried it, thanks to two scientists, a flash of inspiration, and the rind of an unassuming fruit.


This article originally appeared on 08.23.17

Parenting

Mom creates a stir after refusing to drop her child off at a parent free birthday party

"I loved drop off parties. I didn't want to sit at some kids party."

Photos by Ivan Samkov and Gustavo Fring|Canva

Mom refuses to let kid go to "drop-off" birthday party

There are many Millennial moms that were raised on "Unsolved Mysteries" and "America's Most Wanted" during formative years, which may or may not have influenced the way they parent. It can be hard to think clearly when Robert Stack's voice is echoing in your head every time your child is out of eyesight. The jokes about what is responsible for the average Millennial's parenting style resembling more like a helicopter are endless. But sometimes additional caution is warranted where others may find it unnecessary.

At least that's what many folks on the internet believe after one mom seemingly split parents into two camps with her revelation about children's parties. Liv, who goes by the TikTok handle Liv SAHM, takes to social media to explain that her seven-year-old son was invited to a birthday party but when she went to RSVP, she noticed the invitation said, "drop off only."

The mom explains, "It's at someone's house. I don't know these parents. I don't know that there's actually going to be other adults besides this child's parents."


Liv states that she would not be dropping her young child off alone with strangers. To many parents this seems like a reasonable response. If you don't know the parents or any other adults then how can you ensure your child will be safe. Other parents felt like Liv was completely overreacting with a helicopter parenting style.

"Little kids have been going to peoples birthday parties without clingy parents for decades," one person declares.

"I'm a drop off kinda house. I want the parents to leave that is one less person I have to feed. I don't wanna have to make small talk with other parents," another says.

"That's a big no for me too! And I always try to take my kids to classmates parties because people never show up," someone writes.

"That's so worrisome. I completely agree with you mama bear, same with my son," a commenter says.

"Yeah, that would make me uncomfortable too! It's always a little interesting to me when parents drop off their kids at parties," someone else adds.

@livsahm

No thank you! I don’t feel comfortable with that. #mom #momsoftiktok #momlife #sahm #sahmlife #birthday #birthdayparty #celebration #controversial #parenting #parentingtips #parents #no

There's no right or wrong way to throw a party for a kid because there's no rulebook. Generally parents are accustomed to seeing invitations that say no siblings or the offer of parents staying or leaving. Many commenters pointed out that it seemed odd that the invitation was worded in a way that sounded like parents staying wasn't an option.

Some parents noted that the world has changed since they were children and wouldn't feel safe dropping their kids off either. Others found no issue with it and think fellow parents are overreacting. What do you say, odd or perfectly fine?

Family

Dad shares what happens when you give your child books instead of a smartphone

The key to fostering healthy habits in children is to be wholly present and reject the “pressures of convenience”

via Armando Hart (used with permission)

Armando Hart and his son, Raya.

One of the most pressing dilemmas for parents these days is how much screen time they should allow their children. Research published by the Mayo Clinic shows that excessive screen time can lead to obesity, disrupted sleep, behavioral issues, poor academic performance, exposure to violence and a significant reduction in playtime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to 1 to 2 hours daily for children over 2. But American children spend far more time in front of screens than that and the situation is only worsening.

Before the pandemic, kids between the ages of 4 and 12 spent an average of 4.4 hours a day looking at screens, but since 2020, the average child’s daily screen time has increased by 1.75 hours.


A father in Long Beach, California, is getting some love for his TikTok video sharing what happens when you give your kid books instead of an iPhone. Armando Hart posted a video showing his 10-year-old son, Raya, reading a book in the back of a car and it’s been seen over 8 million times.

"Give them books instead of phones when they are little and this is the result," the caption reads. "Thank me later."

We’re so blessed with our son Raya. I think he’s read more books than I have.

@lifeinmotion08

We’re so blessed with our son Raya. I think he’s read more books than I have. #Books #Read #Fyp

Hart and his wife started reading to their son every night before bedtime, hoping to instill a love for books. "It was all about leading by example and creating a nurturing environment where reading was celebrated," Hart told Newsweek. These days, Raya is an avid reader who enjoys just about anything.

“My son likes novels, fiction, nonfiction, and realistic fiction,” Hart told Upworthy. “He also likes informative content, such as reading the almanac and other informative magazines. He loves to build, cook from recipes, and make art.”

For Hart, reading is all about creating a sense of balance in his son’s life.

“It's not about being against technology but about fostering a balanced approach that prioritizes meaningful experiences and hands-on learning,” he told Upworthy. “By instilling a love for reading, creativity, and exploration early on, we're equipping Raya with the skills and mindset he needs to thrive in an ever-changing world.”

Hart believes that the screen time discussion isn’t just about technology but a trend that goes deeper. “It speaks to a broader societal problem: our youth's lack of self-esteem, confidence and fundamental values. While screen time may exacerbate these issues, it is not the sole cause,” he told Upworthy.

“In contrast, physical activity, such as exercise, promotes joy and well-being. Spending hours scrolling on a phone can detract from genuine moments of happiness and fulfillment,” he continued. “Therefore, we must address the deeper underlying issues affecting our youth's mental and emotional health rather than solely attributing them to screen time.”

Hart believes the key to fostering healthy habits in children is to be wholly present and reject the “pressures of convenience” that encourage parental complacency.

“We prioritize quality time together, whether exploring nature, sharing meals with the best available foods, or engaging in meaningful conversations. In today's rapidly advancing technological world, staying grounded in our humanity and embodying integrity in everything we do is crucial,” he continued. “This means staying connected to our authentic selves and teaching our son the importance of honesty, kindness, and respect.”