When words fail, make new ones

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Last week I had piercing moments anaphasia, punctuated by persistent nightjars, until I realized that I was just ringlord. These words are only found in one place – the marvelous of John Koenig The Dictionary of Dark Pains – but they describe states of mind that will be familiar to most of us.

Anaphasia, the fear that your society will split into factions with nothing in common is sweeping through much of the world. A nightjar, according to Koenig’s definition, is “a recurring thought that only seems to hit you late at night – a late task, a lingering guilt, a looming future – that you sometimes manage to forget for weeks, only to feel it land on your shoulder once again, quietly building a nest. ”And be ringlord – what, as an outright romantic, I often follow – is to wish the modern world would feel as epic as the stories of yesteryear: awakened dragons, swords in hand, a proper quest beckoning.

Koenig, the 37-year-old creator of dictionary, is also a video editor, voice actor and writer. He was born in Idaho, raised in Geneva and now lives in Amsterdam. But in 2006, Koenig was a student at Macalester College in Minnesota, and it was here that he imagined a book “so old that its pages shattered between the fingers when turned”, a dictionary of obscure sorrows and the like. emotions that we feel deeply. but do not have the words for.

In 2009, Koenig created a Tumblr account, then a blog, where he started posting his neologisms. Among the first words that entered his dictionary: ameneurosis, the “half-desperate, half-evasive ailment of a train whistle howling in the distance at night”; and gnaschethe intense desire to bite deep into the forearm of someone you love. (At some point, everyone wants gnasche someone.)

Over time, the dictionary assembled an online community and Koenig’s TED talks became very popular. Koenig nurtured his idea slowly and thoughtfully, accumulating words with coined roots in languages ​​ranging from German to Chinese, using references from Werner Herzog (fitzcarraldo: an image that lodges deep in your brain, becoming over time a wild and impractical vision) to the Beatles (alllope: the mysterious aura of loneliness that we find in certain places, a coat rack of “all the loners”).

Fifteen years after his first vision, that of Koenig dictionary will be published as a 300-page book. Unlike most dictionaries, his is organized meditatively, rather than alphabetically, into six sections that include “Living and Dreaming” and “Faces in a Crowd”, and with some definitions going as far as mini-essays. But while this often wonderful book stands on its own, Koenig also fits into an older tradition of inventing words.

Writers have done this throughout history; the most famous of them, William Shakespeare, who invented – or was the first to write – about 1,700 words, “majestic”, “auspicious” and “pious” among them.

More recently, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd released their Sweetly Funny The meaning of Liff, “a dictionary of things for which there are no words yet”, in 1983. They assigned new meanings to existing place names – you are awake if you are in the kitchen wondering why you came, or if you are bothered by Salween, the slight taste of dishwashing liquid in a cup of tea. And in 2017, Mexican writer and physician Javier Enriquez published Lexinar, his dictionary of invented words, which included uckloid: “A person who is often told to fuck off.”

“Yes, my words are made up – but then all the words are made up. Each. It’s part of their magic, ”writes Koenig in his introduction. The key to Koenig’s success dictionary it is the attention he pays both to the sound of a word, but also to its root words, whether Latin, Lithuanian or Portuguese. Leaf sickness, for example, which he defines as feeling ashamed after revealing a little too much of oneself to someone, Koenig drew from Scottish Gaelic foilsich, meaning both to publish and to exhibit; while furosha, “the strange tranquility of fast moving clouds”, comes from the Japanese furosha, meaning vagrant or vagrant.

So, to the larger question: are Koenig’s new words real? In the summer of 2012, he coined the term sounder, meaning “the realization that every random passerby lives a life as vivid and complex as yours”. Readers write to Koenig often, but he has received more mail than usual in response to sounder – it was a word that people instantly recognized as something they too had felt. Since then, the word has entered the urban dictionary and now lends its name to design firms and cafes; it quickly becomes real.

“I have no words,” we say, powerless to explain, for example, the desire to be free from all responsibility, or the feeling of silent astonishment that you exist at all. Koenig suggests wilt for the first, suerza for the second. And suddenly there they are: all the words you never thought you needed, newly created and waiting to be used.

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