At the end of John Koenig’s book The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which I reviewed here, the author invites readers to invent new words (or neologisms) as he has done throughout the book:
…that’s what words are good for – they give meaning to everything they touch. We have the power to use them as we will, even if it means starting over, wiping the slate clean so we can get to work redefining the world around us, until our language more closely matches the reality we experience.
I think that’s the reason why I wanted this book to exist, why I spent so many years chasing this obsession, and why it’s brought me so much joy over that time. I don’t know much about anything, and I can’t back this up with any hard data, but I wholeheartedly recommend the practice of inventing new words to pin down whatever it is you’re feeling. It loosens your mental frameworks and gives you a sense of ownership of the stories you tell yourself.
Now is the time to go looking for gaps in the lexicon, scribbling monsters in the blank spaces of the map, to alert others that something might be down there.
In my book review, I suggested a new word for an obscure emotion that came to mind: obstolère, which stands for experiencing other people as obstacles, who are annoyingly in your way (it’s more a malaise of the urban dweller). Another emotion that I feel could use a word as a designation is feeling apathetic about needing to complete a series of mundane tasks (get out of bed, go to the toilet, shower, get dressed, brush teeth, shop, cook, clean) because doing so seems like a waste of time.
I’ll call this feeling monotigue (monotony + fatigue). It’s not like day-to-day monotony is genuinely a waste of time and pointless, since the mundane motions of the day I just listed all serve a purpose (hygiene, health, looking respectable), but there’s sometimes a sense that these tasks don’t seem important, that time is so limited it should (and could) be better spent on more meaningful activities. Even if these routine activities are necessary – or are at least goal-oriented and benefit our well-being in some way – they might still feel like an annoyance, leading to the wish that one could simply exist without having human functions and needs, so as to be free from biological and social constraints.
Here, I would like to contrast monotigue with ennui: the feeling of boredom, listlessness, dissatisfaction, and fatigue that results from a lack of occupation or excitement in one’s life. What makes monotigue distinctive is the unique boredom that can manifest even when you have direction and meaning in life; it comes from the awareness of how much time you will spend on the basic, quotidian activities you have to do to get through the day.
We normally do these activities out of habit, not giving them a second thought, but sometimes there is a frustration with having to spend so much time just maintaining the body, getting from A to B, queuing somewhere, and having the same kind of small talk – wishing you could instead allocate this time to experiences you deem more important and meaningful. (Apparently, Brits spend 6.7 years of their life just waiting around – because of things like slow technology, being put on hold, adverts playing on the TV, waiting for the kettle to boil.)
It is, however, common in depression to lack the energy and motivation to do even the most basic, routine things, like looking after one’s personal hygiene. So there is a difference between thinking you’re wasting your time on the everyday on the one hand and, in contrast, actually struggling to get through a normal day.
Ennui, unlike monotigue, does not necessarily have to follow from simply having repetitive tasks or days; if you have enough of something to keep you engaged and interested in the day, then you might not ultimately feel listless. However, the malaise of inevitable repetition is, I think, what defines monotigue. Even if you are doing what makes you happy, and you don’t suffer from ennui, you might still have a sudden awareness of just how much precious time you spend on the humdrum, making you feel apathetic about it. That is monotigue. It is perhaps the whinier cousin of ennui.