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15 Obscure Words For Everyday Feelings And Emotions

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Given that it runs to more than a quarter of a million words, there’s a good chance that the English language will probably have the word you’re looking for. But when it comes to finding words for or else describing otherwise indescribable feelings and emotions, much is made of the English language’s shortcomings: We either have to turn to foreign languages to describe situations like coming up with a perfect comeback when the moment has passed (esprit de l’escalier—thank you French), or else use resources like the brilliant, but sadly entirely fictitious, Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows or Meaning of Liff.

But so vast is the English language that words for feelings and emotions, and to describe the human condition, have actually found their way into the dictionary. So there’s no need to call that comeback esprit de l’escalier, because the word afterwit has been in use in English since the late 16th century. And here are 15 more obscure English words to describe feelings that are otherwise indescribable.

1. CROOCHIE-PROOCHLES

This superb Scots dialect word is croochie-proochles—the feeling of discomfort or fidgetiness that comes from sitting in a cramped position (like, say, on an airplane).

2. NIKHEDONIA

You’re playing a game, and you suddenly realize that you’ve got it in the bag. Or you’re watching your favorite team play and, after a close-fought match, you see that they’re surely going to win. That’s nikhedoniathe feeling of excitement or elation that comes from anticipating success.

3. ALYSM

Alysm is the feeling of restlessness or frustrated boredom that comes from being unwell. When you’re desperate to get on with your day but you’re so under the weather that you can’t bring yourself to get out of bed? That’s alysm.

4. SHIVVINESS

A shive is a tiny splinter or fragment of something, or else a loose thread sticking out of a piece of fabric. And derived from that, shivviness is an old Yorkshire dialect word for the feeling of discomfort that comes from wearing new underwear—a word that surely needs to be more widely known.

5. DÉJÀ-VISITÉ

Yes, strictly speaking this isn’t an English word, but like the more familiar déjà-vu before it, we have nevertheless had the foresight to borrow déjà-visité from French and add it to our dictionaries—it’s just not used as often as its more familiar cousin. It describes the peculiar sensation of knowing your way around somewhere you’ve never been before.

6. PRESQUE-VU

One more term we’ve borrowed from French is presque-vu. It literally means “almost seen,” and refers to that sensation of forgetting or not being able to remember something, but feeling that you could remember it any minute.

7. GWENDERS

That tingling feeling you get in your fingers when they’re cold? That’s gwenders.

8. MISSLIENESS

The Scots dialect word missilieness means “the feeling of solitariness that comes from missing something or someone you love.”

9. EUNEIROPHRENIA and 10. MALNEIROPHRENIA

Oneiros was the Greek word for a dream, and derived from that the English language has adopted a handful of obscure terms like oneirocriticism (the interpretation of dreams), oneirodynia (a night’s sleep disturbed by nightmares), and this pair. Euneirophrenia is the feeling of contentment that comes from waking up from a pleasant dream, while malneirophrenia is the feeling of unease or unhappiness that comes from waking up from a nightmare.

11. LONESOME-FRET

That feeling of restlessness or unease that comes from being on your own too long is lonesome-fret, an 18th century dialect word defined as “ennui from lonesomeness” by the English Dialect Dictionary.

12. FAT-SORROW

Sorrow alleviated by riches”—or, put another way, sadness alleviated by material things—is fat-sorrow. It’s a term best remembered from the old adage that “fat sorrow is better than lean sorrow.”

13. HORROR VACUI

The dislike some people have of leaving an empty space anywhere—like on a wall or in furnishing a room—is called horror vacui, a Latin term originally adopted into English in the mid-19th century to refer to the tendency of some artists to fill every square inch of their paintings or artworks with detail.

14. CRAPULENCE

When the word hangover just won’t do it justice, there’s crapulence. As the OED defines it, crapulence is a feeling of “sickness or indisposition resulting from excess in drinking or eating.”

15. HUCKMUCK

According to the English Dialect Dictionary, the confusion that comes from things not being in their right place—like when you’ve moved everything around while you’re cleaning your house—is called huckmuck.

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Why Do We Call People Blamed for Things 'Scapegoats'?
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From Marie Antoinette to the cow that reportedly caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, history is filled with figures who were single-handedly—yet often undeservedly—held responsible for epic societal failures or misdeeds. In other words, they became scapegoats. But what did goats (who are actually pretty awesome creatures) do to deserve association with this blameworthy bunch?

The word scapegoat was first coined by English Protestant scholar William Tyndale in his 1530 English translation of the Bible, according to David Dawson’s 2013 book Flesh Becomes Word: A Lexicography of the Scapegoat Or, the History of an Idea. Tyndale, who was deciphering Hebrew descriptions of Yom Kippur rituals from the Book of Leviticus, recounted a ceremony in which one of two goats was selected by lot. A high priest would place his hands on the goat’s head and confess his people's sins— thus transferring them to the animal—before casting it out into the wilderness to rid Israel of its transgressions. As for the other goat, it would be sacrificed to the Lord.

Tyndale coined the word scapegoat to describe the sin-bearing creature, interpreting the Hebrew word azazel or Azazel as ez ozel, or "the goat that departs or escapes." That said, some scholars have disagreed with his interpretation, claiming that Azazel actually stands for the name of a goat-like wilderness demon, whom the offering was meant for, or a specific location in the desert to where sins were banished, often thought to be a mountainous cliff from which the scapegoat was cast off and killed.

Over the centuries, the word scapegoat became disassociated with its Biblical meaning, and it eventually became used as a metaphor to describe a person who shoulders the blame of any wrongdoing. Now that you know the word's etymology, remember the poor animals that inspired it, and maybe resolve to go a little easier on the next person who ends up having to take the fall for everyone else's mistakes.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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