When human beings evolved from the likes of homo erectus and homo sapiens, there was not much change because by this point man was already walking on two feet, could create shelter and could do other basic things like draw on caves. One major difference between the modern man and the previous species they evolved from was the invention or discovery of speech. Speech, I believe sped up the civilization process as it was easer for the people to come to a consensus of what they felt like they needed, and they built it. Overtime the speech evolved to several different languages and English for instant has evolved into such a complex language that any word or feeling you can think of exists in one way or another in the language. Well, at least that is what we all thought until a few years ago when John Koenig invented what is now known as the dictionary of obscure sorrows. This is a book that defines the emotions that we all go through or will go through at some point in our life. In his Ted talk on March 31st, 2017, Koenig noted that the English language is a magnificent sponge in the sense that it has a lot of holes. This is to say that as much as the language may be detailed there are still lots of emotions out there that are not covered by this ‘sponge ‘and we are going to look at some of them below.


In your existence you are the main character. The world revolves around you and everyone you meet or interact with at any point of your life including friends and family are all just supporting cast. Everything that plays out is just a scene in the grand film, your life. Everything is in the background, fading in out of focus. But what if the world did not revolve around you.

Sonder is the realization that everyone in existence has a story, possibly connected with but essentially separate from your own.

The stranger you saw just once sipping coffee at a restaurant, the light you see at the top office in a skyscraper or the blurry lights you pass through traffic are people starring in their own stories that perhaps you may never know. They are people with dreams, ambitions, routines, worries, regrets just as you. 


The eyes are the windows to the soul and the doors to deception.

Opia is the ambiguous intensity of eye contact.

This is that scenario where you happen to be looking at someone and they happen to be staring at you too. And at that moment you share an unspoken connection, a kind of a bond. In that moment you feel exposed, embarrassed even as if you have invaded someone’s privacy and you quickly look away. This makes us wonder if love at first sight really does exist or it’s just an illusion. 


This is an optical illusion that is easy to fall for even if you know the trick; the more distant you are from other people, the more invulnerable they appear. You see yourself as you are, with all the flaws and shortcomings. For other people we only see them on their own terms, that is by what they choose to show. Therefore, it is easy to think that other people have everything all figured out.

This word fits perfectly on social media. It is easy to get worked up thinking you are falling behind but we tend to forget that nobody posts their failures online.

When you are far from the people only seeing them through screens it is easy to fall for the trick of perspective because you cannot see the cracks from that far. You cannot truly see how imperfect people are or how malleable they are. It is important to note that we are all just works in progress and at no point in life are we ever complete. 


Every choice you make, every decision you make means there are countless other possibilities you had to forego in order to be right where you are.

Onism is the realization of how little of the world you will get to experience by the end of your life.

Let’s take an example of college. Even the idea of college with the entirety of its campuses, courses, clubs is almost too much to bear when you think of everything you are missing out on a daily basis based on the choices you make. 


If someone asked you what you ate for dinner two nights ago, can you remember? Or the weeks leading up to a vacation? Olēka is the realization that your life is but a search for just a handful of memories. We like to think that every day in existence is memorable and if we just seize the day, it will be worth it.

The sad truth is most of life is forgotten instantly, almost as it is happening.

Chances are even a day like today, that you are reading this will slip away and be forgotten into oblivion. 


This is the fear of living an ordinary life. Life in its majesty and fire draws us to leave a legacy, something that will be talked about for generations to come. It is what most if not all of us are after.

We tell ourselves that we want to go beyond, be extraordinary but when it comes down to it doesn’t extraordinary just mean “even more ordinary”? 


“Don’t dwell on the past. Focus on the present”.

At any one point in our lives, we may have had these words spoken to us. Klexos is the art of dwelling on the past that is not nostalgia or regret but a kind of questioning that enriches an experience. Dwelling on the past in this case is to allow fresh content to trickle in over the years and fill out the picture.  Through klexos it is possible to express yourself on a painful experience years later even if you could not at the time. This goes to prove that sometimes the past is not always meant to be forgotten. 


Sometimes you don’t feel the need to think about the past, or the future for that matter.

Sometimes the here and now becomes a concept so mesmerizing and beautiful that you can’t help being absorbed into it, as it is, with no hidden meanings, no symbolism in sight.

This is ambedo, a moment you experience for its own sake.


This is a hunger for disaster. For example, when you see a thunderstorm lurking on the horizon and you find yourself rooting for the storm. Or when you are watching a movie, or a show say Money heist and you find yourself rooting for the ‘bad guys’ so that chaos may occur.

Sometimes this hunger from disaster is from a part of you that is tired of waiting for when the world will fall apart. 


You tell the world who you are in a million different ways. But is almost always doesn’t seem to matter because when you were born they put you in a little box and slapped the label on it so they could keep things organized and not have to think about what is inside the box.

Overtime we learn to get comfortable and package our identity in several different combinations until you finally belong and can wear your labels proudly.

But there is a part of you that never really belonged and had to sit in categories that never really did you justice. Lutalica is the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories. 

John Koenig has created many wonderful words in addition to these,  and I encourage you to check out the rest of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. I hope you’ve been inspired to look at yourself and the world around you a little differently, a little more closely. And if not, then at least you’ve gained some awesome new words for your vocabulary!


Written by: Fidel Gatimu