Screenwriters deal in emotion. To them it is a currency that must be exploited, and anyone that can contribute to this aspect of their craft is worth listening to. John Koenig is such a person.
John has spent more than 8 years making up words which broaden the emotional palette. Each original definition aims to fill a hole in the English language, and to give a name to those emotions we experience but don’t yet have a word for. I’ve listed some of Johns’ words below, along with his definitions and links to his videos.
Frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the centre of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.
Alazia: The fear that you’re no longer able to change
After so many years wondering what kind of person you were going to become one day, somewhere you forgot that this question actually has an answer, and that ‘one day’ will eventually arrive. If it hasn’t already.
Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had—the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert, with nothing interesting left to think about, nothing left to do but spit them out and wander off to the backyard, ready to dig up some fresher pain you might have buried long ago.
Ambedo: A Moment You Experience For Its Own Sake
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.
A conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening, simply overlaying disconnected words like a game of Scrabble, with each player borrowing bits of other anecdotes as a way to increase their own score, until we all run out of things to say.
Anemoia: Nostalgia For A Time You’ve Never Known
Nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. Imagine stepping through the frame into a sepia-tinted haze, where you could sit on the side of the road and watch the locals passing by. Who lived and died before any of us arrived here, who sleep in the same houses we do, who look up at the same moon, who breathe the same air, the same blood in their veins—and live in a completely different world.
Astrophe: The feeling of being stuck on earth
It’s hard not to look at the ground as you walk. To set your sights low, and keep the world spinning, and try to stay grounded wherever you are. But every so often you remember to look up, and imagine the possibilities. Dreaming of what’s out there. Before long, you find yourself grounded once again. Grounded in the sense of being homebound. Stuck on the planet Earth.
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…
Ballagàrraidh: The Awareness That You Are Not at Home in the Wilderness
The story of humanity is a move from the countryside to the big city. But it’s happened so fast that a part of you still remembers Eden. That longs to leave your car idling in traffic, and flee into the wilderness. But there’s another part of you knows that Eden is a fantasy, and you’ll always be floating just above it; trailing clouds of civilization wherever you go.
The sadness that you’ll never really know what other people think of you, whether good, bad or if at all—that although we reflect on each other with the sharpness of a mirror, the true picture of how we’re coming off somehow reaches us softened and distorted, as if each mirror was preoccupied with twisting around, desperately trying to look itself in the eye.
The amniotic tranquillity of being indoors during a thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an argument upstairs, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling release of built-up tension you understand perfectly.
An imaginary interview with an old photo of yourself, an enigmatic figure who still lives in the grainy and colour-warped house you grew up in, who may well spend a lot of their day wondering where you are and what you’re doing now, like an old grandma whose kids live far away and don’t call much anymore.
Dès Vu: The Awareness That This Will Become A Memory
Already remembering something as you’re living it. You were born on a moving train. And even though it feels like you’re standing still, time is sweeping past you, right where you sit. But once in a while you look up, and actually feel the inertia, and watch as the present turns into a memory —as if some future you is already looking back on it. One day you’ll remember this moment, and it’ll mean something very different.
To find yourself bothered by someone’s death more than you would have expected, as if you assumed they would always be part of the landscape, like a lighthouse you could pass by for years until the night it suddenly goes dark, leaving you with one less landmark to navigate by—still able to find your bearings, but feeling all that much more adrift.
The surge of energy upon catching a glance from someone you like—a thrill that starts in your stomach, arcs up through your lungs and flashes into a spontaneous smile—which scrambles your ungrounded circuits and tempts you to chase that feeling with a kite and a key.
The bitter-sweetness of having arrived here in the future, where you can finally get the answers to how things turn out in the real world – who your baby sister would become, what your friends would end up doing, where your choices would lead you, exactly when you’d lose the people you took for granted – which is priceless intel that you instinctively want to share with anybody who hadn’t already made the journey, as if there was some part of you who had volunteered to stay behind, who was still stationed at a forgotten outpost somewhere in the past, still eagerly awaiting news from the front.
A flash of real emotion glimpsed in someone sitting across the room, idly locked in the middle of some group conversation, their eyes glinting with vulnerability or quiet anticipation or cosmic boredom—as if you could see backstage through a gap in the curtains, watching stagehands holding their ropes at the ready, actors in costume mouthing their lines, fragments of bizarre sets waiting for some other production.
An image that somehow becomes lodged deep in your brain—maybe washed there by a dream, or smuggled inside a book, or planted during a casual conversation—which then grows into a wild and impractical vision that keeps scrambling back and forth in your head like a dog stuck in a car that’s about to arrive home, just itching for a chance to leap headlong into reality.
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 you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.
A relationship or friendship that you can’t get out of your head, which you thought had faded long ago but is still somehow alive and unfinished, like an abandoned campsite whose smouldering embers still have the power to start a forest fire.
A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head—a crisp analysis, a cathartic dialogue, a devastating comeback—which serves as a kind of psychological batting cage where you can connect more deeply with people than in the small ball of everyday life, which is a frustratingly cautious game of change-up pitches, sacrifice bunts, and intentional walks.
The moment you realize that you’re currently happy—consciously trying to savour 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.
Kenopsia – The Eeriness of Places Left Behind
The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet—a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds—an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.
A moment that seemed innocuous at the time but ended up marking a diversion into a strange new era of your life—set in motion not by a series of jolting epiphanies but by tiny imperceptible differences between one ordinary day and the next, until entire years of your memory can be compressed into a handful of indelible images—which prevents you from rewinding the past, but allows you to move forward without endless buffering.
Klexos: The art of dwelling on 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.
Koinophobia: The fear that you’ve lived an ordinary life
While you’re in it, life seems epic. Fiery, tenuous, and unpredictable. But once you have some distance from it, everything seems to shrink, until it’s almost out of focus. So you begin scanning your life looking for something interesting or beautiful. But all you see is ordinary people assembled in their tiny classrooms and workspaces, each of us moving around in little steps, like tokens on a game board.
Kudoclasm: When lifelong dreams are brought down to earth
You had dreams even before you had memories: a cloud of fantasies and ambitions of secret plans and hidden potential, visions of who you are, and what your life will be. They keep your spirits high, but every time you reach for the sky and come away with nothing. You feel time starting to slip, pulling you back down to earth. And there it is, “the real world.” As if you’ve finally grown up, steeped in reality, your eyes adjusting to the darkness, seeing the world for what it is.
Lachesism: Longing for the clarity of disaster
For a million years, we’ve watched the sky and huddled in fear. But somehow you still find yourself quietly rooting for the storm. As if a part of you is tired of waiting wondering when the world will fall apart by lot, by fate, by the will of the gods almost daring them to grant your wish. But really, you can wish all you want, because life is a game of chance. And each passing day is another flip of the coin.
The desire to care less about things—to loosen your grip on your life, to stop glancing behind you every few steps, afraid that someone will snatch it from you before you reach the end zone—rather to hold your life loosely and playfully, like a volleyball, keeping it in the air, with only quick fleeting interventions, bouncing freely in the hands of trusted friends, always in play.
Lutalica: 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. You tell the world who you are in a million different ways. Some are subtle, some are not. But it doesn’t seem to matter: this world has already got you pegged. When you were born they put you in a little box, and slapped a label on it. So they could keep things organized, and not have to think about what’s inside. Over time you learn to make yourself comfortable packaging your identity in different combinations until you feel like you belong, and can wear your labels proudly.
Mal de Coucou
A phenomenon in which you have an active social life but very few close friends—people who you can trust, who you can be yourself with, who can help flush out the weird psychological toxins that tend to accumulate over time—which is a form of acute social malnutrition in which even if you devour an entire buffet of chitchat, you’ll still feel pangs of hunger.
A feast celebrated on the day of your 26th birthday, which marks the point at which your youth finally expires as a valid excuse—when you must begin harvesting your crops, even if they’ve barely taken root—and the point at which the days will begin to feel shorter as they pass, until even the pollen in the air reminds you of the coming snow.
The frustration of knowing how easily you fit into a stereotype, even if you never intended to, even if it’s unfair, even if everyone else feels the same way—each of us trick-or-treating for money and respect and attention, wearing a safe and predictable costume because we’re tired of answering the question, “What are you supposed to be?”
Moment of Tangency: A glimpse of what might have been
You and I have never met, many times before. Our paths might have crossed once or twice online, or passing in the street, We might’ve lived in the same neighbourhood all our lives, but against incredible odds, we just happened to miss each other. Accidental strangers, who just happened to miss their cue. Who share everything in common, except for time and place.
The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place, as maladapted to your surroundings as a seal on a beach—lumbering, clumsy, easily distracted, huddled in the company of other misfits, unable to recognize the ambient roar of your intended habitat, in which you’d be fluidly, brilliantly, effortlessly at home.
Morii – The desire to capture a fleeting experience
The desire to capture a fleeting experience. Strange how strong the instinct is to see something incredible and reach for a camera, as if to lend it some credibility, to prove that it’s real, that “I was here”. We live our lives in moments. But even in the moment you can feel it start to fade, so you try to capture and convert it into something that will last longer than just a flash. With every click of the shutter you’re trying to press pause on your life. We try to capture moments as if we are afraid they’ll escape.
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 the window, waiting for you to finish your coffee, passing the time by quietly building a nest.
Nodus Tollens: When Your Life Doesn’t Fit into a Story
The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre—which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.
The awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room.
Olēka: The Awareness of How Few Days Are Memorable
Another day, another week, another year. We’ve heard this song before. Our lives are built of the same few notes, repeated over and over. It’s not a grand symphony, full of surprises. It’s a song sung in canon, that simply carries on, until the tune gets stuck in your head. But then the verse changes over, and for the life of you, you can’t remember how it’s supposed to go.
Onism: The Awareness of How Little of the World You’ll Experience
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.
Opia: The Ambiguous Intensity of Eye Contact
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.
Pâro – The feeling that everything you do is somehow wrong
The feeling that no matter what you do is always somehow wrong—that any attempt to make your way comfortably through the world will only end up crossing some invisible taboo—as if there’s some obvious way forward that everybody else can see but you, each of them leaning back in their chair and calling out helpfully, colder, colder, colder.
A kind of psychological exoskeleton that can protect you from pain and contain your anxieties, but always ends up cracking under pressure or hollowed out by time—and will keep growing back again and again, until you develop a more sophisticated emotional structure, held up by a strong and flexible spine, built less like a fortress than a cluster of treehouses.
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 shutter open indefinitely and let one scene become superimposed on the next, so all your days would run together and you’d never have to call cut.
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: maybe a cable that secretly powers your house, maybe a fiberoptic link to some foreign country.
Silience – The brilliant artistry hidden all around you
The kind of unnoticed excellence that carries on around you every day, unremarkably—the hidden talents of friends and co-workers, the fleeting solos of subway buskers, the slapdash eloquence of anonymous users, the unseen portfolios of aspiring artists—which would be renowned as masterpieces if only they’d been appraised by the cartel of popular taste, who assume that brilliance is a rare and precious quality, accidentally overlooking buried jewels that may not be flawless but are still somehow perfect.
Socha: The hidden vulnerability of others
It’s the kind of basic human vulnerability that we’d all find familiar, but is still somehow surprising when we notice it in others. It’s an open question why we have such public confidence, and such private doubts.
Sonder: The realization that everyone has a story
The realization that each random passer-by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. You are the main character at the centre of your own unfolding story. You’re surrounded by your supporting cast: friends and family hanging in your immediate orbit. Scattered a little further out, a network of acquaintances who drift in and out of contact over the years. But there in the background, faint and out of focus, are the extras. The random passer-by. Each living a life as vivid and complex as your own. They carry on invisibly around you, bearing the accumulated weight of their own ambitions, friends, routines, mistakes, worries, triumphs and inherited craziness.
The Tilt Shift
A phenomenon in which your lived experience seems oddly inconsequential once you put it down on paper, which turns an epic tragicomedy into a sequence of figures on a model train set, assembled in their tiny classrooms and workplaces, wandering along their own cautious and well-trodden paths—peaceable, generic and out of focus.
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.
Vemödalen: The Fear That Everything Has Already Been Done
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 close-up 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.
The smallest measurable unit of human connection typically exchanged between passing strangers—a flirtatious glance, a sympathetic nod, a shared laugh about some odd coincidence—moments that are fleeting and random but still contain powerful emotional nutrients that can alleviate the symptoms of feeling alone.
Yù Yī: The Desire to Feel Intensely Again
The desire to see with fresh eyes, and feel things just as intensely as you did when you were younger—before expectations, before memory, before words.
Zenosyne: 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…
John Koenig has also created a Web series explaining these emotions. You can watch his videos clips here.
He is presently working on the book form of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.
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