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


Every night, somewhere in America, a parent is reading their child one of the country’s most famous of children’s tales: The Little Engine That Could. It’s a 1930s story of an intrepid shunting engine. When the bigger locomotives refuse to pull a long train over the mountain, the little one gives it a try, chuffing, “I think I can I think I can I think I can,” as it slowly grinds up the slope. The little engine’s ultimate success is supposed to instill optimism (see: HOPEFULNESS) and COURAGE in children. Many of the adults reading it at their children’s bedside, however, might just feel a catch in their throat.

The sensation of being touched or moved on seeing the little guy overcome an obstacle or do something praiseworthy has a name in Japanese: ijirashii (pronounced e-jee-ra-she). It’s the feeling we might get watching an athlete, against all the odds, cross the finishing line, or on hearing of a homeless person handing in a lost wallet. Perhaps it might even make us weep, as did Churchill on seeing the dignity and resilience of the poorest Londoners during the Blitz. In some cultures its combination of pathos and vicarious pride might be dismissed as sentimentality. In Japan, however, this feeling is celebrated, considered the appropriate response to witnessing the immense fortitude of those who at first seemed weak and vulnerable.

For other reasons to weep, see: RELIEF.

For another example of vicarious pride, see: NAKHES.