Verklempt

One word that has caught my interest is “verklempt,” which means “the state of being completely overcome with emotion.” I think the reason I find this word so intriguing is because emotions are one of the traits often cited as what make us human, especially empathy, such as the empathy and pity surrounding death. 

Not only that, but it’s important to me, because I often seem to find myself verklempt. My roommate and I particularly found ourselves in such a state this week because a good friend of her cousin’s could die any moment from cancer. He’s only twenty-one years old. 

The truth is, we don’t even know him personally. We never met him. We don’t have to be emotional about it.  But her cousin told us all about him, and now that the situation has a face, or at least a personality, we can’t seem to help but be verklempt about it. 

The word finds its origins in Yiddish. It was borrowed from the Yiddish “farklempt,” with the meaning “depressed, grieving.”  Interestingly, this was actually the past participle of “farklemen,” meaning “to grip, to press.” Merriam-Webster actually traces “verklempt” all the way back to coming from the Old English word “clam” or “clom.” This meant “bond, fetter.”

Then the Germanic root was “klamm-” and it became “klammjan.” In Old High German it became “klemmen” meaning “to press, to squeeze.” In Middle High German it became “verklemmen,” with the “ver-” added to signify that it was with intense force, so that it meant “to press or squeeze intensely.”  It kind of makes sense that “ver-” would make it more intense because it sounds like the word “very.”

Finally, in Yiddish, it became “farklemen,” meaning “to grip, to press.” The past participle of that very word is “farklempt,” with the meaning “depressed, grieving,” from which the word “verklempt” was directly borrowed.  It kind of makes sense that there would be a connection between a bond, clamp, or squeezing or pressing, with intense emotions, especially those of grief.  

The same way a clamp may inhibit the movement of an object, powerful emotions can inhibit people’s abilities to express themselves. The word itself even kind of resembles the sound of someone trying to speak when they are getting choked up and starting to cry. Deep emotions are notoriously one of the most difficult things to express, but at least we can say that we are verklempt. 

On a lighter note, Saturday Night Live has used the word in a comical way, using the character Linda Richman.

Another perfect example of this word is a moment any true Whovian (that’s a fan of the British TV show Doctor Who, if you don’t know) recognizes: the moment in “The End of Time” special when the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, starts to regenerate, and says the words “I don’t want to go.” Both he as the character and he the actor, who was filming his last scene as the iconic Doctor, was indeed verklempt. Many fans would say that the scene had them all verklempt as well.

The Tenth Doctor certainly had no shortage of verklempt scenes. Another example was the scene(s) in which he lost Rose, or moments in which he lost any of his other companions. Doctor Who, despite being science fiction, is a very emotional show. That is at least the case for the revived series, since 2005.  I haven’t seen very much Classic Doctor Who, which was on TV from 1963-1989, so I don’t know how it compared in that regard.

To wrap up the post for this week, I’ll make it easy for anyone commenting, because feedback can be fun:

Is verklempt a word you’ve heard of? According to Merriam-Webster, its first known usage was quite recent, in 1993. If you have heard of the word, was it from the Saturday Night Live sketch or somewhere else? Do you think it is useful? Can you think of any examples of times that you personally were verklempt?

2 thoughts on “Verklempt

  1. Samantha,

    I’ve never heard the word verklempt before! It is interesting to me that it is such a new word–normally, when I think of new words being added to the dictionary, they’re based around technology, like BluRay or LOL! The most recent example of being verklempt that I can think of is when I spoke to Sara Butcher, who was recently elected the first female Nittanyville president, and she described the feeling she experienced at the game when Joe Paterno received his 400th win. I would definitely use verklempt to describe how she felt, and I can’t really think of a better word!

    –Elissa

  2. I have never heard of the word, but the emotion makes sense and I can understand the feeling. Your explanation was good enough that even a Cyberman could understand it. Whenever I watch The End of Time I also am overwhelmed with emotion, even though that episode came out a long time ago. I had a cat that was close to me die about a year ago and whenever I think about that I could describe myself as having that feeling. Emotion is a powerful part of being human, and I think the idea of an overpowering emotion is important.

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