Have you ever had a weird feeling or emotion that you couldn't really describe? Of course you have. Otherwise "That feeling when ..." followed by an extremely specific set of circumstances wouldn't be a meme your mom shares on Facebook. There are a ton of emotions that most people (or even languages) don't have words for. In fact, the Germans have a word for the desire to have a word for everything: alleworterhabenfreude. So let us help you label these hidden desires, anxieties, and itches, so you'll be prepared during any future therapy sessions or police interrogations.
Picture yourself on the landing of a stairwell, or a rooftop, or atop a cliff after a long hike. Some of us will take in the view, snap a pic for the Insta fans, and then be on our way. And some of us will have a weird flash in our brains: JUMP. And you don't have to be suicidal for it to happen.
The French, in their ever-melodramatic way, call this feeling l'appel du vide, or "the call of the void." In English, it's known as high place phenomenon, or HPP (much more boring, we know). But that name is bit misleading, as you can experience HPP anywhere danger could happen. You might want to jump onto train tracks, jerk your car toward a barrier, or ask a cop to take a look at the black flashlight you're keeping in the waistband of your low-hanging pants. Anywhere the balance between life and death is laid bare, the void will come a-calling.
But here's the good news: Having these feelings means you want to live, dammit! As bizarre as it sounds, research suggests that this may be our subconscious overreacting to danger signs, fabricating a fake threat like your mom telling you not to touch electrical outlets because the energy monster will kill you. So the next time you feel the urge to do something fatal, know that you either love life too much or not enough. Like with jumping, there's no middle ground.
Even if you aren't a touchy-feely-huggy kind of person, you hopefully have one or two people in your life allowed to rub up on you every now and then. Even the most standoffish among us need to feel occasional skin-on-skin touch. Otherwise, we might start to experience something called skin hunger -- the urge to touch bodies and have our bodies be touched. If you find yourself suddenly wanting to hug casual acquaintances, fist-bump strangers, or cuddle with Ruth in HR, you might be experiencing skin hunger.
In our contemporary standoffish culture, we should really take skin hunger more seriously, as there are so many benefits to getting touched often enough, and serious downsides when you don't. Depression is the obvious one. Even otherwise well-adjusted people can get seriously depressed without plenty of skin-on-skin contact. Studies have found that even getting a quick massage can greatly decrease feelings of depression.
Another side effect of skin hunger is less obvious but more dangerous: aggression. A study found that French teens, who live in a "high contact" culture, touched each other more often when hanging out and were less likely to be aggressive than American teens. But the easiest place to spot how inhuman a skin-starved person can get is solitary confinement in prison. Not being touched is a specific element of their punishment, and prolonged withdrawal will emotionally and psychologically scar prisoners. And mental instability is not something incarcerated people need any more of.
Part of the problem is that we are now so connected online, but more isolated in real life. You can't receive a hug from your Facebook friends, no matter how convincing the emojis are getting. It's simply an essential part of nature. Baby monkeys in lab tests will even prefer a fake monkey mother that can give physical contact and support over one that is made of wire but gives food. Intimacy over food, huh? Turns out those old pizza delivery guy pornos were wholesome after all.
When holding a baby or playing with an adorable puppy, have you ever had the sudden compulsion to squish them? And not even because they bit you (damn babies), but because they are just too darn cute and you want to hug them so tight they explode? No, you're not a psychopath (well, maybe). Everyone gets this feeling from time to time. In Tagalog, they call it gigil, but in English it's known as "cute aggression."
Gigil elicits genuine aggressiveness in the body. One study into the emotion gave participants some bubble wrap and told them they could pop as much as they wanted, which already makes this the most fun study ever. They then split the subjects into three groups and showed them cute pictures of animals, funny pictures, or plain old normal pictures. The study found that those who looked at the cute pics popped a lot more bubble wrap, as if their hands were automatically seizing up as a response to something they would want to hug and squeeze -- to death, apparently.
Another study had people look at pictures of babies of varying cuteness and recorded their reactions. Not only did people have more nurturing feelings toward the cutest babies, but they also had more aggressive responses, such as wanting to pinch their cheeks or "eat them up." Fortunately, these feelings are completely harmless. Researchers believe that this might a compensation mechanic, that we get so overwhelmed by the omg so kewt sensation that our body injects some nice, bitter aggression so we don't go into emotional diabetic shock. It's similar to how we cry during triumphant moments or touch ourselves inappropriately during funerals.
No? Just us?
Everyone has that special bit of music -- it could be anything meaningful to you, but it's probably Adele -- which never fails to give them a little shiver up the spine and exciting goosebumps on the arms. This is called a "skin orgasm," better known by the French term frisson, because there's nothing more French than combining artistic beauty and sexy time tingles.
While frisson happens most often when you are listening to something that moves you, that isn't the limits of its powers. You can also be physically overwhelmed when looking at a beautiful piece of art, watching a great movie scene, or touching someone else. Scientists think frisson might be something that stuck around from when we were shaggier. Back in our cave-dweller days, when all we had was thick layers of hair keeping us warm, we were very susceptible to unexpected cold breezes. In order to deal with them, our bodies learned to react to a sudden rush by giving us goosebumps to trap a layer of air to assist in keeping us warm. Nowadays, there are plenty of things potent enough to send shivers down our spines other than the cold, like when we're watching that scene in Return Of The King when Aragon tells the hobbits they bow to no one and great now we're crying again.
Research has shown that anywhere from 55 to 86 percent of the population has experienced frisson at some point. There's even a personality trait called "openness to experience" which causes certain people to feel aesthetic chills more often. Such people tend to have very active imaginations, think about their feelings a lot, love pretty things and the great outdoors, and are always trying new stuff like they're the world's most emotionally healthy junkies.
We've all know about deja vu, when you could swear this isn't the first time you've seen that woman in a green hat eating seven hard-boiled eggs. Fortunately, most of us know it's fantastical nonsense. The idea that you're reliving a moment is nothing but your brain playing a trick on you. Not like, say, when you dream about something and it actually happens only days later. That's legit magic, right?
Deja reve (meaning "already dreamed") is deja vu's less famous cousin. This happens when you suddenly think that what is happening has already occurred in a dream you only half-remember. Sadly for all us would-be oracles, deja reve works exactly the same as deja vu -- you feel a false sense of familiarity, and your brain makes the logical assumption that it must be a memory. And since remembering dreams is like remembering real events, only more difficult and less reliable, deja reve is the perfect excuse for both skeptics and people who have a crystal ball on their Amazon wish list to accept the weirdness.
In fact, dreams are such an easy scapegoat for deja vu that almost everyone blames them for it. A study that surveyed college students found that 86 percent of them believed they had relived events that had first happened in their dreams. Another study found it was even more common, with 95.2 percent of participants claiming they'd experienced deja reve. And 7 percent said their dreams come true every week, which must get freaky if they ever dream about being murdered by a clown with an erection.
This list has barely scratched the surface of emotions we have no words for, because there are hundreds of them. One researcher found at least 216 foreign words for emotions that have no English equivalent. So like a therapist who's noticed there's only a minute left of the session, let's rattle some other complex emotions we haven't dealt with yet.
There are some that are immediately recognizable once someone tells you what it means. For example, the Koreans have the word ...
... which means your mouth is bored. It's that "peckish" feeling you get when you aren't hungry, but feel like eating to pass the time or avoid doing something else -- talking, most likely.
Koreans also have a similar word for hand boredom ...
... which means you want to do something like crafting. We're still holding out hope that they eventually discover eye boredom, explaining why we consider naps a valid way to kill some time.
Want some more? The Germans have schnapsidee, which is the phenomenon wherein you come up with the most brilliant plan ever despite being completely hammered. They also have sitzfleisch (literally "sit meat"), the specific fortitude used to sit through very boring things. Gula is Spanish for when you want to eat solely for the taste, a common desire among gourmands and cannibals. And the Bantu people of Africa have mbukimvuki, the sudden desire to burst out into a musical performance, which we could probably translate as "Bollywood syndrome."
So why is it so important to know such words? Because some scientists think that when you don't have a word for something, you might not be as likely to feel it. So maybe try to remember those 216 words. Your life (and vocabulary) will be all the richer for it.
At this point it might also be worth just investing in a French-English dictionary.
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