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Vellichor

Pronounced /ˈvɛlɪkə/Help with pronunciation

Amogh Simha alerted me to this word, which has been widely mentioned on social media in the past year but which is unknown to the non-digital world. All the references to it quote the same definition, which suggests that they all derive from a common source.

This appears to be John Koenig’s wonderfully named site The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It was picked up by Twitter subscribers in August 2013 and has been making the rounds ever since. It has caught people’s attention online in a way that coined words rarely do.

John Koenig wrote of his creation that it meant:

the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time — filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.

Few words in English end in -chor, easily the most common being anchor. It and two others come from unconnected roots: the obsolete vouchor, which the Oxford English Dictionary tells us is a person “who calls another into court to warrant a title” and the chemical term parachor. Two more are the linked ichor and petrichor. The former is the stuff that was said to flow in the veins of the Greek gods in place of blood; the latter is the distinctive and pleasant smell that can accompany rain falling on ground baked dry.

This last evocative word (created only in 1964 from ichor with a prefix from Greek petros, stone) must surely be the inspiration for vellichor, with the first part replaced with vellum. For lovers of books, there is nothing more distinctive and melancholy than the sight and smell of old books, redolent of dust and decayed hopes.

Vellichor deserves to be more widely known.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 4 Apr. 2015

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-vel4.htm
Last modified: 4 April 2015.