I'm not a linguist, but I have an insatiable fascination for the discipline. The study of words, language, and the evolution of both have always been a curiosity. Today's meeting of my university's philosophy club really spoke to me. I hope it speaks to you the same.
The hour began like any other; the bell tower rang incessantly into room 119 of I.G. Greer while club leaders tried to make announcements. The podium was given to Jacey Hale. She began with a pang of inspiration she felt while reading Spinoza. In his work Ethics:
"Prop. xxi. explains to us the nature of Pity, which we may define as pain arising from another's hurt. What term we can use for pleasure arising from another's gain, I know not."
I'll try to summarize the rest of the points made in the quick talk before we broke for discussion. Jacey wanted us to eventually come up with a word to describe what Spinoza was referring to in the quote. She pointed out how, for human beings, language is not only powerful, it is essential. That the naming of things is arbitrary, but required.
Homer, in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, referred to the sea as being "wine-dark". From here, we realize that the Greeks had a different classification of color than contemporary society. Quoting from serendipstudio: "Empedocles, [...] described color as falling into four areas, light or white, black or dark, red and yellow". The Greek words for different colors translate oddly into English, for example anything dark in color can also be described as red.
David Neal and Tanya Chartrand conducted a study of human's perception of human emotion. They found that emotions are processed first through the mimicry of another. The emotion begins in the face, and the actual feedback from the mimicry tells the brain which emotion the face is making.
Jacey finally brought it back to naming Spinoza's problem. She wondered that creating and amplifying this word would diminish jealousy, and completely topple the world's perception of hierarchy in relationships. Since the emotion would become desirable after being named, social structures would change to try and create that emotion as much as possible. Policies would be crafted to cause joy, so that others could feel the emotion.
Being polyamorous, I have felt this emotion many times before when observing the happiness between my partner and her partner. It was brought to my attention that the word "compersion" does a fine job of describing the emotion already, but I feel it is too limited to the context of polyamory. I had thought about this exact phenomenon during the summer when observing all my friends in happy fulfilling relationships and being washed over with happiness.
I mentioned frisson, a French word that translates to shiver, and explained that this word doesn't accurately capture our phenomenon, but that I wanted to mention it because the feeling of frisson is very similar to the feeling I experience from the word; it is as if my experiences with this emotion start in my heart, and travel through my face into my brain creating a feeling of great joy.
Joking at first, attendees vocalized some strange English-adjacent sounds starting with a "w" sound. The thought progressed into the form "wooami", or "woami". A member brought up that this word sounds similar to the Chinese translation of "I love you", which is "Wo ai ni".
A good candidate appeared in "mempathy" (mimicked empathy), which captures the concept. However, I brought up the point that this fundamental emotion should have a short, impactful name which can instantly invoke a certain feeling in the heart. In my view, "love", "hate", "sad", "joy", "happy", and other names of concepts are instantly recognized in the heart and mind. I proposed that our word should be of similar stature.
After this point was made, another member suggested the use of the prefix co- to symbolize the emotion's prerequisite of two or more people, and the Latin word for smile, risus. The adjective was then formed: corisus. In verb form, cori, and conjugated as:
i cori you cori he/she coris they cori we cori
As soon as corisus was said out loud, and immortalized onto the chalkboard, I felt an actualization of cori in my heart. An air of accomplishment warmed the room. Everyone seemed elated that we had finally pinned this emotion down. Club ended with some closing statements, and everyone filtered out slowly.
Finally having a word to describe this feeling of joy derived from other's joy caused me nothing but elation. I haven't a clue why I feel so passionate about this. But according to the prior topics, a human's connection to the world is through language. Naming everything, arbitrarily with "wooami", or less arbitrarily with corisus, can be severely powerful.