Last time we looked at the many words in English for ‘happy’. Happiness is, of course, a wonderful and important human emotion, but as Carl Jung once said, “The word ‘happiness’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness”. Always keen to provide a little balance on About Words, we are this month focussing on sad words and the different types and degrees of sadness that they describe.
Two very simple words which are often used to mean ‘sad’ are down and low: She seemed a bit down when we spoke this afternoon./Illness of any sort can leave you feeling low. Miserable is another such word: I just woke up feeling miserable.
Some words describe sadness when it is mixed with another emotion. Someone who is morose for example, appears slightly sad but also angry and unwilling to smile or speak: My lovely, chatty twelve-year-old has turned overnight into a morose teenager. Despondent means ‘very unhappy’ but also ‘without hope or enthusiasm’: He became increasingly despondent when she failed to return his calls.
Other words suggest that a particular thing has caused the sadness. For example, someone who is broken-hearted is very sad, often because someone they love has ended their relationship or has died: He left her broken-hearted. A person who is homesick is sad because they have been away from home for a long period: Hearing from her parents made her feel even more homesick. Meanwhile, someone who is downhearted feels sad and hopeless because of a disappointment or failure of some kind: Don’t be downhearted – you tried your best and that’s all you can do.
Another set of words describe the degree of sadness that someone feels. Distressed means ‘upset’ but distraught means ‘extremely upset’: The woman was clearly distressed./The missing child’s distraught parents have made an emotional appeal for information. Meanwhile, if someone is inconsolable, they are so sad that no one and nothing can make them feel better: He was the love of her life and the break-up of the relationship had left her inconsolable.
Depressed, meanwhile, has two meanings. It is commonly used to mean ‘unhappy and hopeless’, often because of a particular situation: He seemed a bit depressed about his work situation. But depressed also means ‘suffering from a mental illness that causes sadness, loss of hope, and changes in your usual behaviour and habits’: She became depressed after the death of her husband.
Other words and phrases are used when a sad person’s behaviour starts to annoy you: The phrasal verb mope around and the phrase feel sorry for yourself are two such phrases. Someone who is moping around, or feeling sorry for themselves is allowing themselves to continue feeling sad instead of doing something positive to improve their mood or situation: He was driving me mad, moping about the house all day./She’s got to do something – she can’t just sit around feeling sorry for herself!