Monday, September 26, 2005

ETC: The Meaning of Liff II

The English language has some serious shortcomings. Other languages have finely nuanced words like ennui, schadenfreude, weltschmerz, and déjà vu. What do we have? "Bored"? "Malice"? "Depressed"? And I don't think we even have a synonym, no matter how weak, for déjà vu. Pathetic.

Douglas Adams
's The Meaning of Liff made an attempt to rectify these holes in our language. It's a worthy little volume (I still call deserving individuals "gormless clunes"*), but it was published in 1983, and a fair bit has changed since then. This over-mediated age in which we now live -- an age of heightened sensitivity to, well, everything -- seems to call for some additions to the lexicon.

Here are some definitions for everyday emotions and situations most of us can relate to. Please feel free to provide some concise terms for any or all of them, or add to the list.
  • the frustration one feels when struggling to find the right word for a feeling or situation, combined with a sense of futility due to the conviction that the right word does not, in fact, exist
  • the sudden conviction that what one is in the middle of saying is complete and utter bullshit, while at the same time being helpless to stop oneself from continuing
  • the creeping horror that comes over one upon returning home after a party, happily revisiting the many conversations in which you enthusiastically engaged, and slowly realizing that everything you said all evening was complete and utter bullshit... and that everyone but you knew it at the time
  • the growing certainty that every funny thing that has ever happened to you has already been co-opted by the entertainment industry, and the sense of existential redundancy that this engenders
  • the alchemical process that turns liberal-minded individuals into conservatives precisely at the moment in which they become new parents
  • the anxiety and indecision one feels when forced to choose between returning an unwatched rental DVD or incurring late fees, particularly when there is a distinct likelihood that said movie will ultimately prove mediocre
  • the dread of being judged by video rental store clerks for one's sub-par movie selections, uneasily coupled with the sense of class superiority that dictates that one should not care what a goateed virgin thinks of you, further complicated by class guilt at thinking the latter, complicated still further by the gut sense that the clerk actually doesn't know you from Adam and doesn't give a rat's ass about your movie choices, thus rendering all your fretting irrelevant, which has the end result of making you feel irrational resentment toward the video store clerk simply for existing
  • the worry that one could have picked a better online nickname for oneself, which occurs fleetingly every time one signs on to use a site
  • the sensation of being highly empathetic toward someone who is himself suffering from acute vicarious embarrassment for someone else
  • the anger and resentment one feels about experiencing, against one's will, vicarious embarrassment on behalf of someone (e.g. most Hollywood actors) who, by virtue of being richer and better looking than you, does not need your wasted pity

Oh, and Rusty Iron wanted me to add this one:
  • the sense of mingled awkwardness and embarrassment that one feels when reluctantly forced to explain to one's partner that your reason for not wanting to engage in sexual relations with them is not due to any fault of theirs, but is entirely due to the fact that you masturbated just five minutes ago

The Germans probably have words for all these things. They also have the autobahn and an annual holiday that celebrates beer. Clearly the rest of us have some catching up to do.


*gormless = lacking sense or intelligence; clune = someone who just won't leave

9 comments:

Jenn said...

Hee! For Rusty Irons: mastubarrassment, mastumortification, flustermast...

Anonymous said...

Is it possible that some of these were actually defined in 1992's The Deeper Meaning of Liff? I haven't read either in many years.

Doppelganger said...

Ha! Jenn, you made me think of another: flusterbation (not to be confused with procrasturbation, whose meaning is fairly self-evident).

Juliane said...

I can't tell you how liberating it is that others suffer these same anxieties. I thought I was the only one! How about...
blockbusted: the anxiety and indecision one feels when forced to choose between returning an unwatched rental DVD or incurring late fees, particularly when there is a distinct likelihood that said movie will ultimately prove mediocre

Doppelganger said...

Blockbusted! That is fantastic. I just tested it on Rusty Iron, and he immediately rebutted with, "You're blockbusting my balls." I think we have a winner.

Nee S. said...

"the sudden conviction that what one is in the middle of saying is complete and utter bullshit, while at the same time being helpless to stop oneself from continuing "
ejerkulation?

"the creeping horror that comes over one upon returning home after a party, happily revisiting the many conversations in which you enthusiastically engaged, and slowly realizing that everything you said all evening was complete and utter bullshit... and that everyone but you knew it at the time"
staircase reality?

Just riffing.

Anonymous said...

I always wanted a word for the opposite of favorite. "least favorite" is obviously lame and weak. When I hate something that much, I want a word like "enemy" but for a thing.
Hell, maybe there is one but I don't know it.

Anonymous said...

1) the frustration one feels when struggling to find the right word for a feeling or situation, combined with a sense of futility due to the conviction that the right word does not, in fact, exist
• verklempstistentialism
2) the sudden conviction that what one is in the middle of saying is complete and utter bullshit, while at the same time being helpless to stop oneself from continuing
• continurreah
3) the creeping horror that comes over one upon returning home after a party, happily revisiting the many conversations in which you enthusiastically engaged, and slowly realizing that everything you said all evening was complete and utter bullshit... and that everyone but you knew it at the time
• d-topia

Will C. said...

Strangely, I stumbled over this blog from Googling the phrase "sudden conviction." I am trying to find a proper word that describes a sudden flash of insight wherein some fact is gleaned, which, inexplicably, one knows to be entirely true.
I have never read 'The Deeper Meaning if Liff', but elsewise I am a great Adams fan. Some nice concepts here to tag. The first is entirely one to my heart at the moment, as I am struggling fervently with every thesaurus known to find an appropriate cognate for the concept I previously elucidated. Gads! I liken it to trying to look up a word to check its spelling when you haven't the vaguest idea how to spell it.
"Vexicon" comes to mind, though it's somewhat off-point, pertaining to the book not the experience per se. The word might be a "mystinym", and,--AH!--you might become "thesoreyesed" from trying to it look up.