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  • Writer's pictureMaya

Pondering the Word: Sonder

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

A dear friend and blog follower recently notified me of word she thought was mistyped in one of my posts - “Sonder.” Turns out, it was not a typo. However, the possibility that others might not have heard of this word, as well as the interesting and obscure origin of the word inspired this post - Thanks, Georgie! (click for the post that inspired this one.)

There are some words that exist in other languages, but there are no exact equivalents in English. The Danish concept of “hygge,” which means cosy, the Japanese concept of “wabi sabi,” and Toska, which is the Russian concept of despair that Vladimir Nabokov described as “a sensation of great spiritual anguish.” (Possibly this quote appeared in his book, Lolita.)

The Deutsch-Englisch-Wörterbuch, gives one of the meanings of “Sonder” as “special.” Roberts French Dictionary,, gives the definitions as 1) to probe (physically) and 2) looking for the secret to . . . 3) seeking to know the state of someone’s spirit.

Author John Koenig,has invented definitions to describe the abstract concepts of emotions in his book, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. His definition of Sonder, shown below, is the one that I used in my post, A Blog Inspired by Books and Travel:

Sonder: n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

~ The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig.

If you like this post check out:

Check out Koenig’s Ted Talk:

And his cinematic videos on Youtube:

Sonder Video:

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows:

Happy sondering.

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