The Dictionary of Digital Emotions

All the feels.

There is a particular social interaction I’m quite fond of watching.

Imagine two people. They are engrossed in conversation.

The banter keeps its rhythm until suddenly, the exchange stalls. One of them is stuck, incapable of retrieving the word she’s looking for.

Her eyes narrow with strained effort, like she’s trying to make sense of a tiny map to an endless mental storage room that sits in another dimension.

She might try to will the word into existence with a kind of verbal muscle memory. (“It starts with an ’l’ ‘laaaa’”)

The friend, in an effort to help (or more likely to move the conversation along) might suggest words of her own (‘lame? lonely?’)

Though they may be close approximations, somehow they won’t do. This mental tug of war persists, even if it fades from audible conversation. The person becomes half transfixed.

It’s a rare moment were you can actually watch someone slip into a brief mental obsession. The desire to find that word becomes a tangental force that takes them far away from the conversation they’re having and the person they’re with, and it continues to linger in the back of their mind until resolved. (“It’s lugubrious!”) Charming.

I learned recently that there is actually a word for this exact thing.

Onomatomania: our extreme vexation of having difficulty finding the right word.

There is something deeply satisfying in finding the p-e-r-f-e-c-t word. A collection of letters come together as a stand-in for a concept so specific, that it is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts. Language is the most ancient technology in that way.

These days, the modern world of technology continues to hurtle civilization into the future at a rather impressive rate, but it’s the subtle changes happening in parallel to our inner selves that has me in a permanent state of onomatomania. On the light-speed current of the permanently-connected, hyper-social life, there is a solitary world of feelings that go unspoken and largely undefined. It’s got me reaching into nowhere for words that simply don’t exist.

Until now.

The Dictionary of Digital Emotions: a lexicon for the modern moments where language leaves us wordless.

If nothing else, I hope it’s a comforting or entertaining stop on the way to a post-verbal world (🙅📝🔜.)

Follow along here or here, for more. I’m taking all kinds of suggestions for #digitalfeels. Don’t be shy.