Friday, September 16, 2016

We need more words for our feelings!

The Book of Human Emotions, by Tiffany Watt Smith 


So riveting are these miniature essays exploring 156 emotions that if anyone interrupts your reading, you’ll probably feel irritated. 

Eloquently interweaving scientific, philosophical and literary thought, from ancient to modern beliefs, the book is “a gesture against those arguments that try to reduce the beautiful complexity of our inner lives into just a handful of cardinal emotions”.

It ranges far beyond Descartes’s six “primitive passions” – wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy sadness – showcasing words from around the world including “toska” (for Nabokov, “toska” was “a longing with nothing to long for”) and “basorexia”, the sudden urge to kiss someone.

Particularly fascinating is the connection between feeling and language; the urge to pin down amorphous emotions with the precision of words. 

What we need, argues the author, isn’t fewer words for our feelings, but more. A word to describe the pleasure of reading would be a welcome addition – an emotion incited by this educative, entertaining book.