books language review

John Koenig – The Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows Book Review

A wonderful book full of new ways to express yourself.

Whilst I usually stick to music, occasionally something crops up that I think my readers will enjoy and John Koenig’s “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” is certainly that. John first came onto my radar with his superb YouTube channel which made emotional videos describing words that John had created. These weren’t pop culture words or something you’d find on Urban Dictionary. These were new words for emotions.

The book contains over 250 pages of new language. The words are to describe feelings and emotions that are borrowed from concepts and ideas from other spoken tongues from around the world. The words feel real because they are bound in linguistic reality but up until now, they simply haven’t existed yet. Koenig’s introduction to the book makes a really fascinating point. No one questions why a word for an emotion or feeling exists in one culture but not another. Some languages are more poetic, romantic, whimsical or transactional than others and “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” draws all that in. It does feel sorrowful at times, as many of the concepts and ideas are wrapped up in sad or lonely emotions. They convey complexity in new ways though, so fear comes with excitement and vice versa.

The book is separated into six sections. Between Living and Dreaming are words about dreams and reality. The Interior Wilderness is about your inner thoughts whereas Montage of Attractions features words about looking outside ourselves. Faces in a Crowd contains descriptors of humanity, Roll the Bones takes on the idea of “joining the dots together” in life and “Boats Against the Current” are words dedicated to visceral moments and feelings. Each word comes with its definition, pronunciation and roots.

photo of the book on a table
The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

The book is like burrowing deeply into moments of head-nodding furiously and “oh that’s me” clarity. For example, my whole only indie network of websites gives me “zeilschmerz” – the dread of finally pursuing a dream and no longer being able to hide your talents as a result because it’s a true test of them. Zeil is German for goal. Schmerz is German for pain. Sometimes languages are crossed over, sometimes they are cheeky comments on human expressions. “Wellium” is that moment of feeling stunned before an emotion hits you after a big event happens. John pulls it from the usual stammer “Well…I…umm”. Pronounce it well-ee-um and you have a new word. To say more about the book is to give away its charm but each page is crammed with new ideas and ways of expressing yourself.

Every time I dive into this book, I become deeper and deeply besotted with it and it makes me compelled to use a greater variety of language and explore how language and new words can be created. This is a book to be treasured, much like language itself. Forever evolving, this is a dictionary I’ll be returning to time after time.

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John Koenig - The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows



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