The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


There are some human noises that sound more like animal cries: whoops, hoots, screeches. To the pirates, the “dreadful screech” that wails through the ship sounds strange and ghoulish, “more eerie” than a cat-o’-nine-tails, or Davy Jones’s death rattle. But to the Lost Boys, it’s instantly recognizable as the crowing sound their leader Peter Pan makes, each time he sends a pirate to a watery grave.

The heart rises and the chest swells when we defeat an opponent. We leap up from our desks, flinging our arms skywards. Or sweep up loved ones in an elated hug. At a sports match, little is more contagious than the roars and whistles erupting in the winning crowd. The passion to conquer, and the thrill when we do, is what distinguishes humans from machines, world chess champion Garry Kasparov from IBM supercomputer Deep Blue.

Yet, there’s an aggression about these cheers, too, with their echo of the triumphus processions of the ancient world, in which it was not enough to win; you had to heap violent HUMILIATION on your opponent too. In the ninth century BCE the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II commissioned friezes to be built around his palace at Kalhu (now Nimrud, on the banks of the Tigris in modern Iraq), celebrating his military conquests. They depict people from the invaded countries being dragged from their hiding places. Officials oversee shackled prisoners working in mines, or else count the severed heads of the slaughtered. And all of this carved by the captured citizens themselves. The friezes—like the Roman victory—depict the cruelest part of triumph: the desire to degrade the loser even further.

Perhaps, though, it came at a price. Triumph is not without its risks. “I can’t help crowing… when I’m pleased with myself,” confesses Peter. His sudden glory leaves him feeling invincible. So when Peter rescues Tiger Lily from the pirates, Wendy sensibly claps her hand over his mouth. If he crows, he’ll give them all away…

See also: SMUGNESS.