Mesmerizingly Obscure Words Describing Complex Emotions

It wasn’t too long ago when the film, Inside Out, beautifully told the story of human emotions and its complexities. At the end of the movie (spoiler!), the main character’s emotions were now working on an expanded console that will enable the girl to explore and experience several kinds of emotions that were previously limited to happy, sad, anger, fear, and disgust.

Us humans experience various depths and nuances of emotions but curiously aren’t always able to identify them. Sometimes, we are not simply sad, happy, or mad, but it feels somewhat different.

We don’t have an exact name for some of these complex emotions but thankfully, John Koenig’s The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has invented new words to help us describe those feelings.

Here are 10 of the mesmerizingly obscure words from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows that capture complex emotions.


n. the desire to be struck by disaster — to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall — which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.


n. when lifelong dreams are brought down to earth — sometimes it feels like your life is flashing before your eyes, but it’s actually the opposite: you’re thinking forward, to all the things you haven’t done, the places you intend to visit, the goals you’ll get around to…


n. the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories — we all want to belong to something. But part of you is still rattling around inside these categories and labels that could never do you justice.


n. the art of dwelling in the past — 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 our experiences. They can change their meaning the longer you look at them.


n. the sense that time keeps going faster — as a kid you run around so fast, the world around you seems to stand still. A summer vacation can stretch on for an eternity. With each birthday we circle back and cross the same point around the sun. We wish each other ‘many happy returns.’ But soon you feel the circle begin to tighten, and you realize it’s a spiral, and you’re already halfway through…


n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die — and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out, you are here.


n. the desire that memory could flow backward — we take it for granted that life moves forward. But you move as a rower moves, facing backwards — you can see where you’ve been, but not where you’re going. And your boat is steered by a younger version of you. It’s hard not to wonder what life would be like facing the other way…


n. 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.


n. 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.


n. the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable — their pupils glittering, bottomless and opaque — as if you were peering through a hole in the door of a house, able to tell that there’s someone standing there, but unable to tell if you’re looking in or looking out.

Just like Koenig’s The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, our copywriters at MicroCreatives will help you get the message across. Be it about an emotion you can’t quite explain, or an ad copy or product description, we can write about exactly what you want to say and mean — in a more effective and engaging way.

Definitions and videos from:

Originally published at