I like words. That’s a condition endemic to writers (along with an obsession with stationary supplies) but I don’t think it comes out in quite the way people imagine. It’s not like I love a thesaurus, which, if used with too much enthusiasm, can produce writing filled with inflated diction. No, writing like that, all tarted up, is not what loving words is about, at least not in my opinion. I don’t make lists of my favorite words and then look for random places to insert them in my writing. What I’m more interested in, in terms of words, is where they come from – their etymologies and how they made their way from one part of the world and one language group to another part of the world altogether, and how they changed as they moved through time and space. The Oxford English Dictionary handles etymologies brilliantly – I’ll take the OED over a thesaurus any day
Since I love words and their complicated provenance, it makes sense for me to be interested in neologisms – newly-invented words. The other day my sister told me about this one: Solastalgia. It looks a little like something that might send you to bed with the sniffles, or maybe like something in a 19th-century novel when the heroine requires “mustard plasters.”
Actually, the word “Solastalgia,” coined in 2003 by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, is a condition similar to nostalgia, with a twist; it occurs not when you are far from home and long to return, but when you are still home and feel the loss of home due to the changed nature of the landscape or environment in general. My sister and I are now convinced we suffer from this condition, since we live in a world so changed from what we remember – we are constantly looking for the landmarks that have disappeared, we keep longing to repair the damage and restore a well-loved spot to it’s former health.
Take Elger Bay, for example, midway down Camano Island in Puget Sound, with its old waterfront cabins from the 30’s (no indoor plumbing, no electricity) replaced now by 6000-square-foot mansions. Signs have gone up saying “Private Beach, Keep Off.” The trees are gone, eagles are gone, driftwood has been replaced by cement bulkheads. The cabin my great-grandmother built with her husband is gone. But what we’re feeling isn’t nostalgia. We’re not longing for a simpler time. This is the heartache (or “psychoterratic illness”) of searching for a landscape that once was whole and now is damaged. Solastalgia (a mix of the root word solacium, meaning comfort, and -algia, meaning pain.)
I don’t imagine that word will make it into my writing for children any time soon. But what an interesting word it is. Also, terrible. I might try writing a story about a girl who is homesick even when she’s home.
All because I heard about a new word and looked it up.
[ADDED NOTE: The Australian blog mentioned in the comments below – Healthearth – has a wonderful explanation of solastalgia – click here for a link. This is the blog of Glenn Albrecht, who first developed the concept of solastalgia and came up with a name for it.]