Written by Malak Nour       

Hello, dear readers, and welcome back to Art Bits! Since last month’s article on Islamic art, we’re now stepping into a new territory that I’m particularly fond of. Here’s a hint: ever been in a situation where you felt a certain pang of emotions, or “feels” that you were never quite able to put into words? When you’re really aware of a certain feeling, but never got to express it simply because you don’t know how to and what you’re feeling just seems too deep and intimate to express and share with others. If you’ve ever felt this way – as I’m sure you have – I’d like to introduce you to the topic of this month’s article: ‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’.

Their Facebook page’s cover photo


John Koenig founded ‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ in 2009 with the aim of coming up with words for the feelings that we can’t express in order to, “fill a hole in the language”. It has its own website and can also be found on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Koenig coins a term for a certain feeling then, and with such a profound and elegant prose, he delves deeper into it, assembling it out in words. Some of these words – with their descriptions – are made into videos with entrancing visuals and music that Koenig edits and narrates. The combination of Koenig’s words, along with the careful choice of visuals and music creates an atmosphere of such emotional intensity that one can’t help but be left in awe. Koenig also puts out the etymology (origin) of some of the words that he came up with, giving the impression that this is a project which is taken seriously on his side; he doesn’t just come up with a random combination of letters, instead he actually puts in the effort to come up with words that are somewhat relevant and have an origin of a sort.

From the video: “Kenopsia: The Eeriness of Places Left Behind


Here’s an interesting word:

mal de coucou: n. 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.”

So why the word “mal de cocou”, you ask? Koenig points out that the etymology of the term was adapted from the French “mal de caribou”, meaning “rabbit starvation” in English – which is a state where, despite of having an unlimited access to rabbit meat, you still end up starving due to the abundance of proteins but lack of fats. He also points out that cuckoo birds are able to grow up as the only ones of their kind in a nest of unrelated birds.

Another example – from the website


The Beauty in It…

‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ reminds us of the power of the written word as an art form. Words don’t have to take the form of a novel to draw us into a fictional refuge, or that of a poem with its rhythmic flow or evocation of mental images; they can simply sway together in a compilation of sentences. Koenig creates sentences that are remarkable in their expression of our innermost feelings. He takes from what is already there inside of us, explores it in words, and puts it out there for us to look at and tear up in admiration of.

From the video: “Zenosyne: The Sense That Time Keeps Going Faster

In a way, ‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’ reminds us that we’re not alone, that these feelings inside of us are something, that they exist out there…By putting these inexpressible feelings into words, Koenig helps us acknowledge these feelings, understand them better, and get more in touch with ourselves – with who we are. Words turn into keys, unlocking the doors to the innermost depths of our souls.

From the video: “Ambedo: A Moment You Experience For Its Own Sake



What do you think about Koenig’s project? What’s your favorite video or word from ‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’? Any word that you can come up with for a certain feeling you’ve experienced…? Let me know in the comments!