There I was, just another afternoon browsing Pinterest for some inspiration, when it caught my eye. A word I just had to write about. This word, altschmerz, was claimed to mean “weariness with the same old issues you’ve always had–the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years.”
I immediately felt like this word was very relatable, but I wondered if it was officially a real word. As it turns out, it isn’t quite a real word, but someone named John Koenig made it up by altering a real German word, that real word being weltschmerz. It does not have a direct English equivalent. However, in German, welt means world, and schmerz means pain, so as a compound word, the combination, literally translated, means “world pain.”
Some words that come close to describing it in English are world-weariness and melancholy. However, melancholy isn’t specific enough, because it is basically deep sadness without a given cause, and world-weariness is not quite the same as weltschmerz either, being defined by Merriam-Webster as “feeling or showing fatigue from, or boredom with, the life of the world, and especially material pleasures.”
Merriam-Webster defines weltschmerz, on the other hand, as “mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.” It is the kind of word that acknowledges that the world will never be quite the way you want it to be. I like the idea that a single word could be used to express that specific feeling, which can be difficult to describe in English.
Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster website also explains some of the known history of how weltschmerz first came to be a word. Its first known use was actually by Jean Paul, the poet from the era of Romanticism, in his novel Selena, which was published in 1827.