It wasn’t until 1977 that two psychologists introduced the phrase ‘Flashbulb Memory’ to explain the vivid and enduring recall many of us have of the circumstances in which we first heard stunning and emotionally arousing news.
While it’s since been debated whether Flashbulb Memories are any different to normal memories, it’s been a helpful term to use when referring to momentous events in our lives.
‘I’ll never forget the moment I heard about Diana’s accident that Sunday morning…’ or ‘I was in my parent’s bedroom, when my father rushed in announcing President Kennedy had been assassinated …’
So the idea that we haven’t always had the perfect word for every occasion interests me, and it sounded like a worthwhile retirement activity to:
#40 Create a New Word
The perfect opportunity arose with David Bowie’s death in January this year.
Such was the outpouring of grief around the world that it was impossible to ignore. The tributes, the expressions of angst, the replaying of his greatest moments, the documentaries, the wall to wall news coverage were pervasive.
But it struck me that I couldn’t join in because I wasn’t in any way grief-stricken. My knowledge of the deceased was – well – miniscule. Sure I knew his name, knew he was a performer but somehow, David Bowie’s talent and flamboyant showmanship had passed me by.
I was hard pressed to name even one of his songs. Was there something about Ground Control and a Major Tom? Or was that another artist’s song? When someone asked me years ago if my whippet, Ziggy was named after David Bowie, I’m sad to report that my response was, ‘What do you mean?’
…we are not related
I soon realised that there was no term in existence for my inability to join in the collective grief.
So I turned to someone who could cut to the chase instantly, someone with a sharp, witty, legal mind who’d find a solution.
I sent a quick text message to my sister:
Quick as a flash came the reply:
A perfect concoction that borrows from the marvellous German concept of expressing a complex idea with one clever word – think doppelgänger or schadenfreude.
Grieflosst simultaneously captures both the grief and loss experienced by people around the world as well as the lost experience from an inability to share that grief by those who wander through life oblivious to what’s happening around them.
But could it ever have a serious place in the English lexicon?
It was time to road test it. I awoke recently to news of the death of Prince, an artist whose music I’ve never heard. Seriously, never heard. When I confessed this omission at lunch that day, a kind friend forwarded a YouTube link for his performance of When Doves Cry, assuring me I might remember dancing to it. I didn’t. I’d swear on Ziggy’s life that the song evoked nothing. Zilch. Nada. Nor had I ever heard of Purple Rain. In fact, my sum knowledge of Prince was that he’d once called himself a symbol. Whatever that was about.
But so many people are devastated by his premature passing that the new word was able to establish a solid hold in my vocabulary. I sent a text message to the only person who’d understand:
She replied with her only memory of Prince:
(…courtesy of the brilliant J C Duffy, The New Yorker)
So here it is: a brand new word which has been tested, found perfect and is now available, at no cost, for anyone to use: