Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ll be using manicules (those pointing finger symbols) to direct your attention to something I’m pondering that delights or interests me. Each entry is somehow related to an unusual, obscure, or simply charming to me word.
L is for…
logodaedaly (n) skill in using or coining words. Earliest documented use in English 1727.
Today I want to point you in the direction of one of my favorite books: The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It’s a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig. His intention was to “give a name to emotions we all might experience but don’t yet have a word for.”
He is a filler of holes in our language. There are people who chafe at the idea of Koenig’s work, as though it’s some kind of abomination or gross egoism that he might deign to create new words, but truthfully that kind of attitude seems utterly ridiculous to me and makes me laugh. All words were created at one time or another, and so why not celebrate someone who is examining his world and finding situations which no current word exists and creating one.
The very fact that he does this – that WE can do this is – profoundly delightful to me, and worthy of celebration.
But there’s a deeper aspect of Koenig’s work that fills me with boundless respect. He has done extensive research on etymologies and meanings of prefixes and suffixes, and word roots, and most of his words are “stitched together from fragments of a hundred different languages, living and dead.”
The dictionary has six chapters organized as themes: the outer world, the inner self, the people you know, the people you don’t, the passage of time, and the search for meaning.
Admitted there is certainly an existential feel to this dictionary – the very name The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” is indicative. But let me offer this quote from the intro:
“This is not a book about sadness—at least, not in the modern sense of the word. The word sadness originally meant “fullness,” from the same Latin root, satis, that also gave us sated and satisfaction. Not so long ago, to be sad meant you were filled to the brim with some intensity of experience. It wasn’t just a malfunction in the joy machine. It was a state of awareness—setting the focus to infinity and taking it all in, joy and grief all at once. When we speak of sadness these days, most of the time what we really mean is despair, which is literally defined as the absence of hope. But true sadness is actually the opposite, an exuberant upwelling that reminds you how fleeting and mysterious and open-ended life can be. That’s why you’ll find traces of the blues all over this book, but you might find yourself feeling strangely joyful at the end of it. And if you are lucky enough to feel sad, well, savor it while it lasts—if only because it means that you care about something in this world enough to let it under your skin.”
Isn’t that powerful and inviting and expansive? Don’t you want more of that?
The book was published late last year, but first appeared as entries in his blog and as videos on youtube, so you may in fact be familiar with some of the words. But it’s now available as a hardcover, kindle edition, and audiobook. The book is 300 pages, but small at 5×7 so if small print is difficult for you, you might want to choose another format. I also have it as an audiobook and I’m loving that as well. It’s read by the author, and it feels delicious to me to listen and then pause and think.
I firmly believe in these wise words from Anne Lamott:
“Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, much is given. We just have to be open for business.”
I really feel that way about this book. Don’t you feel a deep down welling of excitement considering that indeed we live in a world filled with unnoticed excellence and hidden talents, buried jewels? Just holding that makes me want all the more to hone my listening, sharpen my observational skills, exponentially expand my gratitude and appreciation, and walk differently through this world.
What about you? Does the idea of this dictionary appeal to you? Have a book that encites your excitement as this one does for me? Have a very favorite word? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.