You can feel it. You can sense it. Somewhere deep inside, you know exactly what emotion you’re experiencing, but for some reason, you can’t seem to find a way to describe it. Your brain starts concocting word recipes like, “anger tinged with longing and a dash of depression” to capture the unidentified feeling, one that is all too familiar.
Before you prescribe yourself anti-psychotics and make claims to insanity, you need to realize this phenomenon is entirely normal. Though the English dictionary has become heavy enough to be considered more of a weapon than a book, its 3,000-plus vocabulary is still inadequate when it comes to describing certain abstract emotions. Luckily, there is a solution. In a study done at London’s Royal College of Art, design student Pei-Ying Lin identified a number of words from other languages that describe specific emotions, ones that cannot be defined by any one term in English. For example:
Saudade (Portuguese): a somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness; longing for something that might never return.
Remember that time in elementary school when you raised a group of butterflies and set them free into the wild, secretly hoping that one of them might flutter back to you and refuse to leave? Remember how you felt when it didn’t happen? How about the time you tuned into one of your many TV shows the week after they killed off your favorite character? Imagine how you felt then, knowing that, until the writers run out of plotlines and resort to character resurrections, your fictional hero/heroine will no longer be included in the show’s script. That is saudade. It is the same reason why, no matter how much you hated high school, you are still flooded with a sense of nostalgia whenever you flip through a yearbook. You don’t want that time back. You want that emotion back.
Tocka (Russian): great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause; ache of soul, a longing with nothing to long for.
Tocka is the center-point of every 2-dollar paperback novel you find in the “beach book” section of a convenience store. By which I mean, it is the feeling of missing something or someone that you never had in the first place (and later finding a man or woman or cat that fills that void). It is often referred to as the “Carly Rae Jepsen Syndrome” in reference to her lyric “Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad.” To put it simply, if this were an episode of Friends, Phoebe would be cleansing your aura.
Schadenfreude (German): the pleasure derived from someone else’s pain.
Schadenfreude is everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure. Why? Because schadenfreude describes the inexplicable joy you experience when you watch a video compilation of dramatic wipeouts on YouTube. You know you shouldn’t laugh. You know that the person who just tumbled down a hill or ran into a bookcase is probably suffering from a great deal of pain. You know that George of the Jungle could potentially suffer brain damage from swinging into that tree, which he does every time, even though you repeatedly told him not to. You know that your ex-boyfriend is about to slip into a mild depression when you see the girl he dumped you for break up with him on Facebook. And yet… you laugh. Why? Schadenfreude. That’s why.
Litost (Czech): a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.
Litost is the underlying cause of a mid-life crisis, the state of self-reflection that forces you to acknowledge the laugh-lines forming around your mouth, the bags hanging below your eyes and the party playlist you made on your iPod that consists only of nostalgic country music. Litost can also strike in your younger years on New Year’s Day when you wake up with “Harry Styles have my babies” scribbled across your forehead and an album of pictures on your phone filled with people you don’t remember ever meeting.
While some emotions can be described with a term from another language, others are so new, they don’t have words to describe them at all. Another chart made by Lin depicts a collection of nameless emotions that have arisen during the age of the Internet, feelings that are so unique to the current generation, society hasn’t had time to label them yet. So, to save everybody the trouble, I have decided to name these emotions myself so that they may be included in daily conversation:
- Rechneravis (Rechner= Computer in German, Avis= Bird in Latin): a sudden and irrational rage in response to reading an “@-Reply” on Twitter.
- Hungdort (a clever combination of hungry and discomfort made by yours truly): the car collision of appetite and discomfort one feels simultaneously when using the internet to seek and consume images or information that may be considered unseemly or inappropriate.
- Wibloque (a condensed, more sophisticated-sounding version of writer’s block that I made up just now): the sense of fatigue and disconnect one experiences after emitting a massive stream of content only to hit a kind of wall and forget and/or abandon the entire thing.
- Logosleeg (Logos= Message in Greek, Leeg= Empty in Dutch, or something): a vague and gnawing pang of anxiety centered around an IM window that has lulled.
- Rhydosa (while suffering from this phenomenon, I hit my face on the keyboard and this word came out so I figured it might fit): the state of being installed at a computer or laptop for an extended period of time without purpose, characterized by a blurry, formless anxiety undercut with something hard like depression.
There are a lot of experiences in life that do not have names. The pang of excitement you feel when you bite the tip off of a slice of pizza. The fear of getting old that flares up when you find your first gray hair at the age of 19. The split-second moment just before the roller coaster drops where time seems to stop. While it may be fun to come up with names for these instances, it is also important to realize that perhaps they have remained nameless for a reason. Sometimes it’s okay to be struck by an emotion that you can’t describe, one so unique that you have no choice but to be speechless.
Original study can be found here. Image via Shutterstock.