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05Jan

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig review – fifty shades of sad

Ever felt something but struggled to express it? A new book might help you put a name to your ‘proluctance’

In 1983, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd published the classic satirical dictionary The Meaning of Liff, comprised of words for which there were no words yet. For instance: “Moffat, n., That part of a coat which is designed to be sat on by the person next to you on the bus”, or “Trispen, n., A form of intelligent grass. It grows a single, tough stalk and makes its home on lawns. When it sees the lawnmower coming it lies down and pops up again after it has gone by.” Novelty language books being an evergreen format, we are now offered The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig, the bound form of a long-running website, which is like a much more earnest and emo version of The Meaning of Liff.

The presiding mood here is a lugubrious narcissism, signalled by defining various nuances of loneliness, anxiety, bittersweetness and things that are “poignant”. There is “haunting solitude” (“wildred”) or “complicated solitude” (“innity”). There are terms for microanalytical worries about one’s “quintessential self” or “inner self”. The star lexeme here, which the author fondly observes has entered some people’s online vocabulary since he proposed it some years ago, is “sonder”, defined as “the awareness that everyone around you is the main character of their own story”.

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