• nostalgia •
nês-tæl-jê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. Sentimental longing or wistfulness for the past or things as they were in the past. 2. Homesickness.
Notes: Today's Good Word comes with a respectable family of derivatives. The adjective is nostalgic; it comes with an adverb, nostalgically. We even have a seldom used but still useful personal noun, nostalgist, for someone who constantly dwells on the past, usually preferring it to the present.
In Play: We suffer nostalgia for things we no longer have but wish we did: "I think today's cars are OK, but I must admit a bit of nostalgia for mud flaps and fender skirts." We would probably all do better if we were as fascinated by the future as we are by the past: "Jason Ranebose felt a tugging nostalgia for those days of his youth in his parents' home, when they paid all his bills."
Word History: Today's Good Word was coined in 1668 by Johannes Hofer in his tract Dissertatio Medica de Nostalgia, oder Heimwehe. Hofer used the word to refer to homesickness, which he approached as a disease. Hofer's creation was what is called a 'calque' or 'loan translation'. He took the German word for "homesickness", today Heimweh, made up of heim "homewards" and weh "woe", and translated each part with a Greek loan word: heim = nostos "homecoming" + algos "pain". The medical profession still uses algos as its term for "pain". We see it in such words as myalgia "muscle pain", neuralgia "nerve pain", gastralgia "tummy ache", cephalgia "headache", and analgesic "anti-pain (medicine)". (I'm sure none of us feel any nostalgia for the days before Jackie Strauss began suggesting wonderful Good Words like today's.)
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