The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig

As a curious child my mom refused to explain the meaning of unfamiliar words. She’d tell me to look them up in the dictionary. What initially annoyed me catapulted me into a lifetime hobby of collecting useful and interesting words. If I couldn’t find something official that met my need for self-expression, I’d make up a new word. My brother and I invented “exquivalent,” a combination of exquisite, excellent, and equivalent that to us meant that something was ‘equal to the best’. I recently discovered that longtime blogger John Koenig spent ten years creating a dictionary that unearths, reworks, or outright invents words and phrases for feelings, mostly nouns and adjectives, that convey universal meanings for which no official English words exist.

“My personal copy includes marginalia with asterisks, exclamation marks, hearts, and reference tags for other projects I’m working on. It’s a treasure I will not part with.”

   The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (Nov. 2021, Simon & Schuster} is a cornucopia of philosophical and psychological sentiments that serves as a prompt for further contemplation. My personal copy includes marginalia with asterisks, exclamation marks, hearts, and reference tags for other projects I’m working on. It’s a treasure I will not part with. Others have been prompted by this book to create songs or have specific words tattooed on their bodies. As you read through the book, in whatever order you choose, you will be struck by definitions that succinctly describe familiar emotions you have never put into words. Sorrow, wistfulness, delight, humour, and reverence are some of my reactions to the book.

    Divided into six sections Dictionary addresses seeing the world as it is versus what it could be, self-definition, social connection, humanity as viewed from a distance, hanging in there, and finding meaning in it all. Explanations are detailed and reference the words, often foreign, which form the roots of the syllables.

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   One of my favourite words which Koenig has coined is ‘Ozurie’. It imagines how Dorothy must have felt upon reawakening in her monochrome Kansas prairie after her nocturnal technicolour adventure. It’s the sense of being in between two worlds, forever changed by what you have experienced. I also liked “kudoclasm,” from the Greek kudos and clasm or a breaking down. Tp describe the feeling when lifelong dreams are brought down to Earth.

   I felt “looseleft,” upon finishing the book (from loose-leaf and left). My adventure had come to an end and like Dorothy I was back in a monochrome world of everyday words, missing the new ones I’d befriended.

      Here are some more to pique your interest: kairosclerosis, justing, heartspur, and bye-over. What do they mean? Well, you’re just going to have to look them up in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows!

About the Author

John Koenig is a video maker, voice actor, graphic designer, and writer. Born in Idaho and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, he created The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows in 2009, first as a blog at before expanding the project to YouTube. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughter.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster (Nov. 16 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 288 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1501153641
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1501153648

Glenda MacDonald (#thestoryfinder) is a freelance writer, editor and marketing consultant in Toronto specializing in indie book publishing.

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