Are there words in English for these? Should there be? 


  • Unhappiness experienced by one person when he or she hears about another person’s success and ensuing joy. The opposite of Schadenfreude, that is.
  • The particular kind of irritation experienced by a person who is asked, again and again, “Has anyone ever told you that you look a lot like …?” (This occurs to me because there was a young Tom Waits sitting near me in the Denver airport this morning.)
  • Songs or films that you hate and hope never to think of again, much less experience. The opposite of a playlist, I suppose. Such as The Witches of Eastwick (1987). Also, pretty much any movie with Adam Sandler. No, scratch that: every movie with Adam Sandler. In music, all popular music in whatever era released by bands like Foreigner. And Boston. And songs like “Afternoon Delight.”
  • The feeling of pride and relief, mixed with embarrassment, when you accomplish something so utterly mundane that other, sane people would (you recognize) stare at you in amazement if they knew that you gave such trifles a second’s thought. Like making it to your gate at the airport without losing all your luggage, your driver’s license, and your boarding pass. (I did it! Two days in a row!)
  • Those blurbs that convince you to purchase yet another unforgettable debut novel. Jane Smiley saying it’s “mesmerizing.” Or maybe it’s Junot Diaz swearing that he could not put it down, not even to soothe a shrieking baby or drain the pasta for dinner or finally, finally call his mother back. Then you start reading. You pinch yourself to test whether you’re mesmerized. Okay, you think, gritting your teeth, one more chapter, because how could Smiley or Diaz or Kingsolver be so utterly wrong? Until there comes a moment when you can no longer deny the fact that you have once again been bluped (?!!).
  • The look someone gives you after you say something that is not exactly idiotic but not exactly normal either. For example, suppose you ask someone out on a date. (Note to my younger readers: when some old person avers that couples, in a time long ago, used to “go out on a date” or “date each other,” imagine a kind of romantic rendezvous for, say, dinner and a movie.) She says thanks but no thanks. Then you say, “Well, okay then. Good luck, I guess.” This happened to me once, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. What’s wrong with wishing someone good luck?
  • The sort of itch you get in a place you cannot reach, which moves around once you have convinced someone to scratch it for you.
  • The kind of patience it takes to keep scratching someone’s back for her, even though the initial itch was located over her left shoulder blade, and now you find yourself scratching her kneecap or whatever.
  • Finally, what should we call the absence of a word when there should be a word to describe that thingamajig.


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