Reverse Shibboleth

The practice of answering a cellphone with a generic “Hello?” as if you didn’t already know exactly who was calling—which is a little like the egg requirement that marketers added to early cake mixes in the 1950s, an antiquated extra step that’s only there to reassure you that it’s an authentic home-cooked meal, just like…

Gnossienne

A moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to…

Rückkehrunruhe

The feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness—to the extent you have to keep reminding yourself that it happened at all, even though it felt so vivid just days ago—which makes you wish you could smoothly cross-dissolve back into everyday life, or just hold the…

Vemödalen

The frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist—the same sunset, the same waterfall, the same curve of a hip, the same closeup of an eye—which can turn a unique subject into something hollow and pulpy and cheap, like a mass-produced piece of furniture you happen to have assembled yourself. Coined…

Trumspringa

The temptation to step off your career track and become a shepherd in the mountains, following your flock between pastures with a sheepdog and a rifle, watching storms at dusk from the doorway of a small cabin, just the kind of hypnotic diversion that allows your thoughts to make a break for it and wander…

Semaphorism

A conversational hint that you have something personal to say on the subject but don’t go any further. An emphatic nod, a half-told anecdote, an enigmatic ‘I know the feeling’, which you place into conversations like those little flags that warn diggers of something buried underground. Coined in 2012 by John Koenig in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a…

Querencia

A place from which one’s strength is drawn, where one feels at home; the place where you are your most authentic self. It is a metaphysical concept in the Spanish language. The term comes from the Spanish verb “querer” which means “to desire“. In bullfighting, a bull may stake out his querencia, a certain part…

kairosclerosis

The moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savor the feeling—which prompts your intellect to identify it, pick it apart and put it in context, where it will slowly dissolve until it’s little more than an aftertaste. Coined in 2012 by John Koenig in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a project, to create…

Kuebiko

A state of exhaustion inspired by an act of senseless violence, which forces you to revise your image of what can happen in this world—mending the fences of your expectations, weeding out invasive truths, cultivating the perennial good that’s buried under the surface—before propping yourself up in the middle of it like an old scarecrow,…

Moriturism

The insomnia-borne jolt of awareness that you will die, that these passing years aren’t just scenes from a dress rehearsal, rounds of an ongoing game or chapters in a story you’ll be telling later, but are footprints being lapped by the steadily gathering tide of an unfathomable abyss, which still wouldn’t wash out the aftertaste…

Lilo

A friendship that can lie dormant for years only to pick right back up instantly, as if no time had passed since you last saw each other. Coined in 2012 by John Koenig in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a project, to create a compendium of invented words for every emotion we might all experience…

Ambedo

A kind of melancholic trance in which you become completely absorbed in vivid sensory details—raindrops skittering down a window, tall trees leaning in the wind, clouds of cream swirling in your coffee—briefly soaking in the experience of being alive, an act that is done purely for its own sake. Coined in 2012 by John Koenig…

Nighthawk

A recurring thought that only seems to strike you late at night—an overdue task, a nagging guilt, a looming and shapeless future—that circles high overhead during the day, that pecks at the back of your mind while you try to sleep, that you can successfully ignore for weeks, only to feel its presence hovering outside…

Klexos

Your life is written in indelible ink. There’s no going back to erase the past, tweak your mistakes, or fill in missed opportunities. When the moment’s over, your fate is sealed. But if look closer, you notice the ink never really dries on any of our experiences. They can change their meaning the longer you…