Describing Your Anxiety…With Made-Up Words?

Is there a name for that piece of (otherwise useless) wood that you used to stir a can of paint?  You know what I mean.  It’s been sitting in the corner of your garage for a year or so now.  Half exposed wood, half dried paint.

Douglas Adams gave it a specific and unique name: cotterstock.


I’ve had Douglas Adams’ and John Lloyd’s The Deeper Meaning of Liff on my bookshelf for a few years.  It’s a fun read.  The back of the book describes it as “[t]he classic dictionary of words for which no words exist.” In other words, it gathers hundreds of activities, situations, or concepts that are familiar to us — yet unnamed — and assigns words to them.  (Liff, for example, is their word for “a common object or experience for which no word yet exists.”)

Confused? Don’t be. Put simply, it’s a book of fun words that don’t exist (but should).  Here are a few of my favorite made-up words from the book:

Papcastle (n.) — Something drawn or modeled by a small child which you are supposed to know what it is.

Lolland (n.) — A person with a low threshold of boredom.

Hessle (vb.) — To try and sort out which sleeve of a sweater is inside out when you’re already half-way through putting it on.

Leeming (vb.) — The business of making silly faces at babies.

Pymble (n.) — Small metal object about the size of a thimble which lies on the ground.  When you kick it you discover it is the top of something buried four feet deep.

I often hessle my way into winter sweaters…and jackets, too.  Also, I greatly enjoy leeming — who doesn’t? — and I can pretend to understand a papcastle like the best of them.


Our world is complex. And sometimes, language doesn’t suffice to describe that world well enough.  This is where creativity and artistic playfulness come in — Adams’ words, whether they’ll ever catch on or not, simplify our world.

Yes, they’re humorous. But each word acts as a symbol for a referent that would otherwise need to be described with more lengthy language.  So, they’re also convenient — and I find myself tempted to use a few of them in everyday conversation.

Like our world at large, anxiety is complex. And, again, language doesn’t often suffice to describe it well enough. Sure, we have words like “stress,” “nervous,” “nauseous,” “worried.” and so on…but there’s a lot of liff in the gaps.

Consider my own predicament in describing my anxiety and panic: sometimes, I’ll go into a period of high anxiety where the main component is stomach distress. I could call this type of anxiety “anxiety with stomach distress as the main component” (it’s a mouthful, no?), but my pet name of “panic belly” sounds a lot better. It simplifies and de-medicalizes things, doesn’t it?

At times, it almost sounds cute. Panic belly!

Christening my stomach distress as “panic belly” is reassuring and reminds me that the anxiety I’m experiencing isn’t something new and medically frightening — it’s the same old story. Still scary, but safe. It’s the same familiar sensations I’ve had before, in the past, during previous periods of high anxiety and panic.


Back to Douglas Adams and John Lloyd: several of their whimsical words are at least tangentially related to anxiety:

Oswestry (n.) — The inability to find a comfortable position to lie in bed.

Kelling (vb.) — The action of looking for something all over again in all the places you’ve already looked.

Iping (vb.) — The increasingly anxious shifting from leg to leg you go through when you are desperate to go to the lavatory and the person you are talking to keeps on remembering a few final things he wants to mention.

Deventer (n.) — A decision that’s very hard to take because so little depends on it — like which way to walk around a park.

Farnham (n.) — The feeling that you get at about four o’clock in the afternoon when you haven’t got enough done.

Sure, some of them are just plain silly.  But farnham?  That word needs to be real!  A lot of my own work-related stress stems from farnhams that put a lump in my throat, orchestrate a session of “panic belly,” and leave me in a state of oswestry come midnight.

Have you coined any creative words or phrases for aspects of your anxiety or panic? Do you think that assigning a name to a previously-unnamed thing, experience, or concept can tame that thing, experience, or concept?

And lollands, if you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, I salute you.

Creative Commons License photo credit: anneh632

Describing Your Anxiety…With Made-Up Words?

Summer Beretsky

Summer Beretsky enjoys writing about her experiences with anxiety, panic, and Paxil. She had her first panic attack as an undergrad at Lycoming College and plenty more while she worked toward her M.A. in Communication from the University of Delaware. She contributes to the World of Psychology blog here on PsychCentral and has written for the Los Angeles Times. You can follow her on Twitter @summerberetsky.

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APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2011). Describing Your Anxiety…With Made-Up Words?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2018, from


Last updated: 9 Aug 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Aug 2011
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