Definition: This word represents a complex experience of the human condition, and thus is very tricky to try and pin down in brevity.

“Sonder” is the profound, individual realization that each person you meet is living their own life, that each person has their own world fitted with their own personal worries, pains, pleasures, ambitions, routines, etc– The same as yourself, in a sense, but also as intricate and as different as could be imagined. “Sonder” is the idea that there are millions of stories happening all at once, around each other, oblivious and contained from one another.

It’s the idea that You– with all of your importance of being the star in your own intimate play –aren’t really that important at all, in the grand scheme of things, and more often than not do you appear as nothing more than an overlooked extra sipping coffee or walking across the road in the background of all the separate, equally precious inner productions of strangers.

(If you appear or are recognized at all.)

Pronunciation: sohn-dehrr


I’ve seen differing conclusions from what language this word hails.

(But in my personal, objective opinion, I’m quite sure it’s German.)

Why this word?

It’s been said that human beings are “herd animals”. In a lot of ways, this description rings undeniably true.

I’m personally convinced that the profundity of the idea of “sonder” is exactly what makes the bonds between absolute strangers so fast when said strangers realize another person enjoys the same thing that they do.

It’s a simple phenomenon, and it happens everywhere all over the globe when new people first meet– “Oh, you like ___? Me, too!” / “Wow! ___ is great, isn’t it?”

It’s pure, sincere beauty. Not ten seconds before, you couldn’t have been able to recognize the other person from the proverbial Adam or Eve, but find a mutual interest to share with them, and suddenly they become astounsingly significant. You know them now! (You might not know the main variables that make up the big assemblance of That Person– like their surname, their occupation, or where they live –but if you can mutually discuss something that excites and interests you both, the naturally lonely separateness of what it is to Be A Human is demolished in a nanosecond, and you suddenly have a trusted bridge joining your world with another’s.

This is why special interests clubs and groups are so powerful in our societies and the interpersonal relationships that exist underneath them. Call them a religion, a club, a fandom; whatever. They’re all the same experience, just different packaging. (This is why social sites like Livejournal, 4Chan, and Tumblr are so frighteningly influential.)

Special interests mediate our social interactions by uniting strangers who in many other settings might outright hate each other, but when their willingness to submit their anonymities and total control over personal lives are set aside, they happily shuffle along with others who let them feel as though they belong.

I’m convinced that the knowledge of “sonder” is something that we all (secretly) already understand. But, because the reality of our overwhelming insignificance – even, honestly, in the subconscious understanding of those special, separate humans whom we believe we love –is generally “too heavy” for many, and is incredibly uncomfortable in the most basic sense, it’s also why the (still surprising) common phenomena of finding a mutual similarity with an absolute stranger is so impressive.

How would you use this word in a sentence?

Example: “If you want to get through life completely without bruising, here’s what you’ll need to do– Don’t read books; you might learn and understand new things. Don’t listen to music; you might become aware of sonder and seek connections with other people. Don’t speak to anyone, ever. Don’t leave your house, don’t leave your bed. Don’t live.”


About Author

Veronica Jacobs is a fiction writer, blogger, academic editor, and sci-fi enthusiast. Currently working freelance (with a background in English Literature), she spends most of her time writing.

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  • Dale Schroeder

    I just came across the word sonder and it intrigues me. I am a word hobbyist and enjoy the etymology of words old and new. The prospect of finding a word burgeoning into definition is exciting. I love the concept of sonder. It is indeed elegant to have such a simple word develop such a profound and vast concept as it’s definition. Sitting in a mall watching people walk by, imagining the diversity and complexities of their interaction and non-interaction. Sonder is a succinct word that can include even the concept of the butterfly effect. Not only that we don’t effect one-another, but that we unknowingly do effect each other.
    [1980–85; butterfly effect – so called from the notion that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings may set off currents that will grow into a large storm]

    I will tuck this word away into my vocabulary. One day it will be just what I need to express a feeling or thought better than any other and I will be a small part of developing the English language.

    • Josh Emeric

      This word to perfectly encapsulates the art of storytelling. epic stories come from strangers, and meanigful relationships are developed from that. I know the strives to accomplish this within their platform, and it is apparent that the community who appears to be “strangers” actual is a cohesive unit.

  • Albert Decker

    “…find a mutual interest to share with them, and suddenly they become astounsingly significant.”
    No dictionary results for this one. 😉

  • agr

    as to the orgin, it isn’t a real world at all, it was recently made up by the author of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.

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Definition: Destitute. A person with no worldly possessions or wealth of any kind. Lacking in money. Pronunciation: Im-peh-kew-nee-us