Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A word for that weird thing

I am reading Schottenfreude, a new book by Ben Schott in which he identifies familiar phenomena that don't have names, but should. Then he invents one for each, in elaborate German. For example, "Eisenbahnscheinbewegung" is "the false sensation of movement when, looking out from a stationary train, you see another train depart."

Interestingly, just about every unnamed phenomenon in the book makes me think of at least one more. Clearly, our language is woefully deficient.

Ben: Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn't there.

Me: The disorienting sensation you get when stutter-stepping onto or off a broken escalator. (I first identified and wrote about this experience 20 years ago; it has since become the subject of scientific studies involving electroencephalograms, control groups and standard deviations.)

Ben: Sneaking sly looks at the physically disabled.

Me: Elaborately pretending to scan the entire population of a bus or subway car so that, without arousing suspicion or giving offense, you can momentarily scope out the hottie.

Ben: Returning to your old school and finding that everything feels so small.

Me: Attending a high school or college reunion and feeling sorry for all the others, who seem so old, followed by a moment's pause, followed by a dawning sense of horror.

Ben: The smug self-satisfaction of those behind the wheel of a vintage car.

Me: The smug self-satisfaction of those who pronounce ordinary words pretentiously, such as "vahze" or "ON-deeve" or "ma-toor" or "neg-oh-see-ate." Or, God help us all, "foy-YAY." (In a related development, I propose that henceforth the word "pretentious" be pronounced "pre-ten-see-ous.")

Ben: The usually futile attempt to return to the plot of a dream after having been woken.

Me: The always futile attempt to return to the plot of a sexy dream after having been woken.

Ben: That awkward feeling of discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting.

Me: That awkward feeling, drenched in the shame of betrayal, when you momentarily lose track of the game and find that you have mistakenly cheered a development that was, in fact, bad for your team.

Ben: The pressure to make bantering small talk with people you interact with every day.

Me: When you see a crazy person talking to himself, only to realize it is a Bluetooth conversation, and then feeling not relief but disappointment.

Ben: Feeling that the thermometer is still under your tongue after it's been removed.

Me: That weird, electric, full-body, quasi-sexual shudder-thrill you sometimes experience at the apex of a big stretch.

Ben: The urge to test whether paint marked "wet paint" really is still wet.

Me: Avoiding the top newspaper in a stack because the one under it is probably more pristine.

Ben: The dilemma of whether to ask someone to repeat something a third time, or to pretend you understand.

Me: Upon being asked to repeat something a third time, the dilemma of whether to do it, or to truthfully say it's not important enough to bear repeating, and risk seeming churlish.

Ben: Enjoying emotionally manipulative mass culture, despite knowing you are being manipulated.

Me: The dilemma of whether to write something that is kind of trite and obvious and formulaic, just because you know that people are not that discriminating, and will enjoy it and talk about it.

© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

A word for that weird thing 11/26/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 29, 2013 1:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post - Writers Group.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. AP: Rick Scott to name Jimmy Patronis CFO on Monday

    Blogs

    From the AP's Gary Fineout:

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott is turning to a political ally and former legislator to take over one of the top jobs in state government. 

    Then state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City Beach, left, and Gov. Rick Scott, tour downtown Panama City, Fla. on Tuesday, April 19, 2011. Scott will name Patronis CFO on Monday.
  2. Despite Pride success, Grand Central business owners upset over losing parade

    Events

    The Grand Central District was packed with people Sunday, there to enjoy the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    Patrons eat lunch and cool off inside of the Community Cafe during the St. Pete Pride Street Festival along Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. LUIS SANTANA   |   Times

  3. Rays blow another lead, lose rubber match to Orioles (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Orioles rallied past the Rays on Sunday, winning the rubber match of the three-game series 8-5.

    Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop (6) scores in the eighth in the final game of a three-game series between the Tampa Bay Rays and AL East rival the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
  4. Tim Tebow heads back to Sunshine State with promotion to St. Lucie

    Blogs

    Tim Tebow is coming back to the Sunshine State.

    Columbia Fireflies outfielder Tim Tebow looks out from the dugout before the team's game against the Augusta GreenJackets on April 6 in Columbia, S.C. Columbia defeated Augusta 14-7.
  5. 'Sharknado' coming to Tampa Theatre with director Q&A

    Blogs

    A movie about a tornado filled with man-eating sharks has to be better on the big screen, right? You'll have a chance to find out for yourself when the Syfy network's original Sharknado screens at Tampa Theatre.

    The original 'Sharknado,' which premiered in 2013, will screen at Tampa Theatre.