The best words are the ones with no English equivalent. They invariably describe moments in the human experience that we find exotically ungraspable. Unpindownable. Fleeting. Ephemeral. Often they’re concepts that Anglo culture has – simply – failed to grasp. Some of my favourites include hygge, haimish, mamihlapinatapai and suadade.

Image via tumblr
Image via tumblr

Today I present you with sonder.

sonder, n. the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

This is a translation that comes from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and appears to derive from some very old French word.

My new e-mate Hazel alerted me to such a dictionary. She gets my affinity with melancholy. Thanks Hazel.

So, to experience sonder…it happens when you’re in a crowd and people are streaming toward you (perhaps in a train station), or perhaps you’re on a plane and have the opportunity to stare up close at the people sitting nearby (as I am just now as I write this on a plane to Melbourne).

This stream of faces, or opportunity to pause intimately and be with humanity, drags you from your own myopic, clustery thinking

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