Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Word Love

Love is in the air this week, so I want to give a nod to all the logophiles out there, the word lovers, sometimes known as word nerds. 

I don't claim to have the world's most expansive vocabulary. In fact, I've been known to forget the meaning of a word moments after looking it up. (I also experience lethologica, the it's-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue inability to remember the right word, more often than I'd like.) 

When asked the impossible question of what is my favorite book, I have occasionally answered, "the dictionary," which sounds too sassy and/or too snobby. But I genuinely enjoy spending way too much time leafing through a dictionary, on a scavenger hunt for fabulous words.

Here are two other word books I'm enjoying right now:

Schottenfreude: German Words for the Human Condition, by Ben Schott (2013)

I don't speak German, but I love that their words are often famously long and almost poetic in their translations. Take, for example, Winterstrumwonnemondwende, (winter-storm-bliss-moon-turning), which means delight at the changing of the seasons. Or Schwiegermutterkurvenlanghals (mother-in-law-bend-long-neck), which means the morbid urge to slow down and stare at a road accident. With plenty of annotations, this book is a fun read even for those of us who don't speak the language.

Author John Koenig begins The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (2021) with this quote from comedian Steven Wright: 

I read the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.

The book, Koenig writes, is "a compendium of new words for emotions." All the words are either resurrected and repurposed, or coined for the sake of helping "translate" emotion. The dictionary is divided into six chapters with evocative titles such as Between Living and Dreaming, and Boats Against the Current.

Perhaps you have experienced pax latrina (the meditative atmosphere of being alone in a bathroom) or have felt tillid (humbled by how readily you place your life into the hands of random strangers). When I'm caught by the afore-mentioned lethologica, I never knew that I was feeling pithered (frustrated that you can't force yourself to remember something).

The words are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes profound. I understand why The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is a New York Times bestseller. Give the book a look or visit the website to find yourself some new favorite words. You won't be disappointed, fellow word nerds!


  1. I haven't heard of that book before, but it sounds fascinating! Did you nkow that Monday, as well as being Valentine's Day, was also Library Lovers Day?