Sonder, and other fake words for really real things.

I happened upon this graphic not too long ago, one of the many things produced by a simple scroll through my Facebook feed. Except this one made me pause longer than a funny meme or a cat video. This one spoke straight to my nerdiness, to my inner word geek, to the language lover within. It got me all a-tingle.


If you took a read through, you likely found yourself in a state of perpetual “A-ha!” moments. All twenty-three of these words express complex emotions or states of being that otherwise have not been summarized into a single word, until now.

For me, “sonder” was the one that stuck out the most, and I couldn’t wait to look it up. Word entomology is crack to me, essentially. I’m fascinated by it. It’s so, so good.

Anyway, when I looked up sonder, it turns out …

… None of these words are actually real words.

Insert pouty, disappointed, cynical face, mixed with Resting Bitch Face, here.

Well, in short, it sucked to find that out. Because, after all, the words seemed so incredibly perfect. So vital, so necessary.

So … real.

I was legit pissy. After all, I hate falling for deceptive internet fodder designed to do nothing more than to be a hoax so someone can get their troll jollies. (Damn trolls.) So, like any mature adult, I pouted for a bit, then I scrapped the picture from my iPhone’s album and vowed to never think about it again. I wasn’t going to let the bullshit of hipster Tumblrs steal any more of my purposely less millennial, sunshiny rays of life. They’re pretty vital to the inner workings of the universe, after all. Duh.

And I did just that–that is, until I got in the car the next day and saw other people.

I saw a lot of them–people driving (some better than others), people working, people waiting, people getting me my French vanilla iced coffee, sweaty people running, patient people standing, seemingly happy people laughing, and yes, even a (baby) person crying. They were all around me, these people. In and out of my view and life trek faster than I could keep up. Some brave enough to show me their eyes and look at me, some preferring to remain as unnoticed as possible. And much as I tried, I kept hearing it in my head, like a bad song hook you can’t escape:


I realized, in that moment, that whoever crafted the word, “sonder” wasn’t a horrid human being after all. See, that one, simple word that kept ringing in my head withdrew me from a contained state of mind, where my problems and desires were the axis of the earth. It struck down my worries, if only for a moment, to realize that others worry too. Other people dream. Other people wish, and feel. Each person, a complex individual with intricate lives like my own. Favorite foods, pet peeves, wild ambitions, hobbies and pastimes, loves and hates, vibrant joys and burdening heartaches. Each of those people had a story, and not just a short story–novels. And I was featured in each one. If only for a brief moment in time, I became a part of their complexities as much as they became a part of mine, and together became a, “we” instead of apart just a, “me.”

How did words begin, anyway? Were they not once created with the purpose to express something, and then used until they became the cultural norm? If a word has the power to affect someone like it has me, is the impact less only because of its roots? Or, say: If you received a profound piece of advice from someone, would you discount it solely on the basis of that person never attending college? If you did, that would be kind of shitty.

Kind of like how I was kind of shitty to discount sonder right away, because it lives outside of the almighty dictionary.

I wonder how much better of a world we could each make if, right away, we didn’t immediately judge each other’s worth based on roots, or on position, gender, class, education, affiliations, or job title.

That’s some real occhiolism right there.




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