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mindLook After Your Mind No. 17

Many years ago, after I had gained a place at what was then called a teacher training college, I was sent a list of books to buy before my course began. At the top were ‘The Concise Oxford Dictionary’ and ‘Roget’s Thesaurus’. These not only helped when writing my essays,�but have been a fascinating source of information since - I still have them on my shelf, though they are falling apart now even faster than I am!

Browsing through the thesaurus (the word by the way comes from the Greek meaning a treasure house), I am still fascinated by the entries that cover the huge range of emotions which human beings are capable of expressing. A brief search on the Internet will bring up sites claiming that there are ten basic or core emotions (or more, depending where you look). So we have; fear, anger, sadness, joy, disgust, trust, anticipation, surprise, love and remorse (www.quora.com).
You can probably add to that list immediately off the top of your head. A little further investigation reveals that we are far more subtle and complex than any list of basic emotions suggests. Browsing through my trusty Roget I find that synonyms (‘the same name’) for joy include; thrill, rejoicing, delight, gladness, rapture, exultation and ecstasy. However, these are not true synonyms as, for me anyway, they name emotions that differ in their essence, intensity and frequency. I may be thrilled to win a �20 raffle prize but I would hardly be ecstatic. Over the course of a typical week I may feel thrilled in one way or another several times, but ecstasy is a much finer and rarer emotion.

Incidentally, ‘ecstasy’ also comes from the Greek and means ‘to stand outside the proper place’, suggesting to be out of one’s ordinary senses, to be transported by intense joy.

It concerns me that words naming or describing rare, intense and, properly speaking, life transforming emotions are used so casually and even glibly these days. Recently I heard a pop singer described as a ‘legend’, while somebody commented to me that a meal they enjoyed lately was ‘awesome’. I’ve also heard brilliant, incredible, amazing, fantastic, unbelievable, astonishing and wonderful used on talent shows and gardening programmes - frequently accompanied by absolutely, utterly and totally. This simply serves to dilute the power of the language and limits our ability to describe intense feelings in words.

Click here to read more articles in the series 'Look After Your Mind' by Steve Bowkett

Steve Bowkett
(Currently feeling happy but not awed or ecstatic.)
Issue 413
June 2019

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