What I Learned about Gheegle

I’m rethinking everything I assumed about emotions thanks to one of my current favorite reads, How Emotions are Made by Leesa Feldman Barrett. Barrett posits that emotions don’t belong to objective reality. They can’t be measured as physical phenomenon, like facial expressions ranges or EKG patterns. Emotions are purely social constructs, experiences we’ve been taught by our culture to expect.

I’m only half way through the book, but I find the power of that premise incredibly tantalizing.

But today, instead of diving deeper into Barrett’s intriguing insights, I got completely distracted by gheegle (and its cohorts).

In discussing emotions as social constructs, Barrett points out that, of course, many emotions are cross-cultural. We’re all human and share much of the same basic experience, like being bipedal and needing to eat. But Barrett reminds us just how many emotional concepts don’t translate.

For instance, there is gheegle.

Gheegle isn’t my first introduction to concepts that don’t map one to one with English. Last year I read all about hygge. I loved steeping in the idea of comfy coziness, but it took several books and a deep dive into Danish culture to even begin to appreciate the complex subtleties of hygge .

But gheegle, gheegle is something I understood immediately. I’ve been experiencing gheegle my entire life, just never had a name for it.

Gheegle (also transliterated as gigil) is the irresistible urge to hug, squeeze, or pinch something so crazy cute that you just can’t stand it. For years I’ve suffered (relished?) the pleasure that borders on pain of seeing my adorable kitty and needing to scoop him up and give him a great big hug. Thank you, Tagalog. The people of the Philippines have given me a name for one of my strongest emotional urges.

Lucky for me Barrett didn’t stop with gheegle. She had some more emotional social construct goodies:

Voorpret (Dutch): pleasure in anticipating an upcoming event
Age-otori (Japanese): feeling like you look worse after a haircut

Once I’d read these, productivity for the day was derailed. If, like me, you’re tickled by these delightful words, for which no equivalent exists in English, check out the links below. It’s Friday. You’re welcome.

Bored Panda: a lovely illustrated article that includes the haunting German word, Torchlusspanik (dread of decreasing opportunities as one ages).

Lonely Planet: a fun list of foreign concepts and emotions, among which my favorite was pisan zapra (Malay), the time needed to eat a banana.

(Shibu Inu photo credit)