Obscure Words for Everyday Feelings

Words for specific and obscure feelings

Chagrin refers to the anxiety or distress one feels when one is embarrassed or disappointed, or frustrated by one’s own failure. It often appears in the phrase to one’s chagrin.

When freestyle died out in the early 1990s, Mullen made the transition to street skating, in which tricks incorporate elements of the man-made environment such as steps, curbs, and handrails-often to the chagrin of property owners, who tend to view skateboarders as human vermin.
— Brendan Koerner, Wired, February 2015

In French, chagrin means “grief” or “sorrow,” and can also be an adjective meaning “sad.” Some etymologists have linked this word to another French word chagrin, referring to rough leather or skin.


The clinical term anhedonia describes an absence of pleasure felt in the presence of something that normally gives you pleasure. The word combines the negative prefix an- with the Greek root hēdonē, meaning “pleasure” (as found in hedonism).

Yoga, for Dederer, started out as an attempt to fix something that was wrong: not just searing back pain, but her tremor, her anxiety, her anhedonia, her judgemental nature, her marriage.
Dani Shapiro, The New York Times Book Review, 26 Dec. 2010


Paramnesia is the clinical term for any disorder of memory (as the inability to distinguish between real life and the fantastic), though it more typically applies to what is more commonly and colloquially known as déjà vu. It occurs when something you are experiencing for the first time feels as though it isn’t really new. The term was introduced by a German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin, in 1886.


Leucocholy is defined as “a state of feeling that accompanies preoccupation with trivial and insipid diversions.” (Seeking distraction on the internet would seem to meet this description.)

The word is attributed by many to the 18th century poet Thomas Gray, who created the nonce word by replacing the first half of melancholy (melan-, meaning “black” or “dark”) with the New Latin spelling of the Greek leuko, meaning “light.” In a 1742 letter, Gray writes of “white Melancholy, or rather Leucocholy, for the most part; which though it seldom laughs or dances, nor ever amounts to what one calls Joy or Pleasure, yet is a good easy sort of state, and ça ne laisse que de s’amuser.”


Esprit de l’escalier literally means “wit (or spirit) of the staircase”—the stairs in question being those down which you leave a party or other gathering. The notion behind the phrase is that feeling when you think of the perfect response to another’s question or comment only once you’ve left the party and are on your way home.

The French encyclopedist Denis Diderot (1713-1784) is credited with introducing the notion of esprit de l’escalier. The sensitive man, he wrote, when absorbed by the words of another, tends to lose his mind “and recovers it only at the bottom of the stairs.”


Any reader of the Bible might recall the Beatitudes as the eight blessings recounted by Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount, as told in the Gospel of Matthew. The first of these goes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Beatitude derives from the Latin beatus, meaning “happy.” In general use, the word refers to the kind of happiness akin to bliss.

As Glennard, in the raw February sunlight, mounted the road to the cemetery, he felt the beatitude that comes with an abrupt cessation of physical pain. He had reached the point where self-analysis ceases; the impulse that moved him was purely intuitive.
— Edith Wharton, The Touchstone, 1905