About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy
GOOD is part of GOOD Worldwide Inc.
publishing family.
© GOOD Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A man invented new words for feelings that do not have a name and it just feels so right

John Koenig's dictionary has words to describe subtle feelings like walking alone in a foreign city.

A man invented new words for feelings that do not have a name and it just feels so right
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | khoa vo

The human heart brims with emotions and poetic sentiments that are often hard to capture with regular words. Thankfully, Minnesota author John Koenig found a solution. Unable to find the right words to express his feelings, he created his own dictionary. Titled “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” his 2021 book became a best-seller, delighting word lovers everywhere.

Representative Image Source: : In a photo illustration, a Merriam-Webster's dictionary is seen placed on a lawn on January 11, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo Illustration by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Representative Image Source: In a photo illustration, a Merriam-Webster dictionary is seen placed on a lawn on January 11, 2024, in Austin, Texas. (Photo Illustration by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

The dictionary brims with words for those feelings that all humans feel, but find it difficult to express. He describes this project as “using language to crystallize the vast holes in our emotional lexicon,” capturing the fleeting nature of existential feelings.


From the bittersweetness of arriving in the future to the frustration of being unable to fly, the awareness of one’s heartbeats, and the agony of being stuck in one’s body, Koenig spent over a decade crafting imaginative words to express these subtle feelings.

“It’s calming,” said Koenig in the book’s introduction, per Sun Journal, “to learn there’s a word for something you’ve felt all your life but didn’t know was shared by anyone else.” Some of these words are mash-ups from different languages whereas others are names and places from folklore and pop culture, as well as terms from chemistry, mathematics, and astronomy.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

Speaking to McKinsey, Koenig revealed the process that led him to curate this book. “It’s just a matter of diving into the research and looking for something that speaks to me, a hook,” he said, adding that his research usually started with a Wiktionary. “Then I start with a root word. For example, ‘immerensis,’ which is the feeling that you don’t understand why someone loves you. I found the Latin root immerens, which means undeserving, and expanded it from there to ‘immerensis’. Once I find a hook like that, I can then dive into real dictionaries in those languages and try to piece something together in a creative way. But often, that’s not quite enough, and I have to get creative in other ways,” he explained. While working on this, he said he made sure that there wasn’t already a word for it.

When asked whether the words teeming in his book are real, he said, “Well, no, of course they’re not real. I just made them up. You’re not going to find these words in any other dictionary.” He also revealed that one of the words called “sonder” has made its way into the names of cafes, becoming viral on social media feeds.


Here are a few of the mesmerizing words from Koenig’s "Obscure Sorrows" dictionary collection:

1. Nyctous

Meaning: Feeling quietly overjoyed. To be the only one awake in the middle of the night. Sitting alone with a laptop and a cup of tea. Strolling down the center line of an abandoned street. Taking in the world like an empty theater between productions.

2. Suerza

Representative Image Source: Pexels | sebastian
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Sebastian

Meaning: A feeling of quiet amazement that you exist at all. A sense of gratitude that you were even born in the first place, that you somehow emerged alive and breathing despite all odds, having won an unbroken streak of reproductive lotteries that stretches back to the beginning of life itself.

3. Wenbane

Representative Image Source: Pexels | norbert kundrak
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Norbert Kundrak

Meaning: Feeling small and alone while walking the streets of an unfamiliar city, swept along in the commercial bustle of asphalt and neon, dwarfed by impenetrable monoliths looming high overhead, brushed aside by pulses of traffic carrying on their daily business, with nobody willing to look you in the eye except for the posters encrusted on subway walls, each of them pitching at someone other than you.

4. Povism

Representative Image Source: Pexels | olly
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Olly

Meaning: The frustration of being stuck inside your own head, unable to see your face or read your body language in context, only ever guessing how you might be coming across, which makes you think of yourself as a detached observer squinting out at a lushly painted landscape. But everyone else you’ve seen is woven right into the canvas.

5. Kenopsia

Representative Image Source: Pexels | lukas rychvalsky
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Lukas Rychvalsky

Meaning: The eeriness of places left behind. You can sense it when you move out of a house, noticing just how empty a place can feel. Walking through a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on the weekend, or fairgrounds out of season. [Such places] are usually bustling with life but now lie abandoned and quiet. It’s easy to forget that most of your memories happened in places that are still around, the walls mostly unchanged, carrying on in your absence. The world you once knew and the people you still remember have long since moved on, replaced by so many others who have passed through these doors.

6. Justing

Representative Image Source: Pexels | pixabay
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Pixabay

Meaning: The habit of telling yourself that just one tweak could solve all of your problems—if only you had the right haircut; if only you found the right group of friends; if only you made a little more money; if only he noticed you; if only she loved you back; if only you could find the time if only you were confident—which leaves you feeling perpetually on the cusp of a better life, hanging around the top of the slide waiting for one little push.

7. Arroia

Representative Image Source: Pexels | leah newhouse
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Leah Newhouse

Meaning: The wish that you could’ve enjoyed a dry run of your life—muddling through once quickly, then going back to do it all over again, this time for real.

8. Fellchaser

Representative Image Source: Pexels | rdne
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Rdne

Meaning: A long-forgotten mistake from your past that could reappear at any time and rip your life apart, like a boomerang you tossed away years ago that’s only just now looping back around, which you’d have no idea how to handle because you have no idea what it is.

9. Starlorn

Representative Image Source: Pexels | khoa vo
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Khoa Vo

Meaning: A sense of loneliness looking up at the night sky, feeling like a castaway marooned in the middle of the ocean, whose currents are steadily carrying off all other castaways—entire worlds and stars whose only remnant is a scrap of light they flung overboard centuries ago, a message in a bottle that’s only just now washing up on our shores.

10. Vellichor

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Dictionary.Of.Obscure.Sorrows (@thedictionaryofobscuresorrows)


Meaning: The strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.


More Stories on Good