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Often I find I have a sense of nostalgia for things I've never actually experienced, in a way that rivals the same sort of feelings I have for things I have experienced.

For example when listening to music that was big before one's own generation or seeing old black and white photos of how people lived their lives generations before you were born.

It's an odd feeling I've heard many people talk about, but I've never quite had a word for explaining it.

Is there a term that describes this? Or is it still nostalgia?

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I've often felt the same lack. –  Charles Nov 30 '11 at 19:05
    
I'm not sure that would count as real nostalgia. It sounds more like a desire to connect with the past, particularly a past that you never could have experienced. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 30 '11 at 19:08
    
Is there a reason it couldn't be called nostalgia? –  Julia Nov 30 '11 at 22:24
    
@FrustratedWithFormsDesigner: ...thus the question. –  Charles Dec 1 '11 at 2:24
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One thing's for sure: nostalgia ain't what it used to be. –  Hugo Dec 6 '11 at 22:18

11 Answers 11

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I think the word wistful captures that sense of wishing for something, tinged with regret. I'm not sure that nostalgia requires you to have experienced the thing you're missing, but it does require it to be in the past. Wistfulness doesn't - I can feel wistful thinking of something I could be doing, or had once thought I would be doing by now, and neither of those fits nostalgia.

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+1 because I was thinking of wistfulness before I scrolled down to see your answer. I'm not sure you'd normally be wistful about something in the future that was never in the past though - unless it's a future which the past/present has already ruled out for some reason. On the other hand, nostalgia ain't what it used to be, and probably never could be again. But if you act on your wistfulness you might well (re-)live the actual experience. –  FumbleFingers Nov 30 '11 at 19:25
    
I suppose that is about right; I mean it doesn't exactly capture the meaning, but with supporting statements that would be a good word to finish the thought with. –  Bob Dec 1 '11 at 0:21

For some crazy reason - I've always wished it was 1938 again. That blip in time when the Depression was over, we still struggled - but we all did. War wasn't on our horizon yet, and we were all, well... safe. I wouldn't call it an MGM moment, but I wonder if it's close. I yearn for that simpler America -

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This would make a nice little comment to the question—but it is not an answer. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 25 '13 at 10:45

How about vicarious nostalgia.

That would be nostalgia experienced through the accounts of others.

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deja vu is my first thought that came to mind here. dé·jà vu ˌdāZHä ˈvo͞o/ noun 1. a feeling of having already experienced the present situation.

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Sorry for the downvotes, but dé-jà vu has nothing to do with the question at hand –  mplungjan Dec 25 '13 at 21:55

The question reminds me of a theme that Woody Allen explores in his recent film Midnight in Paris. He uses the term "Golden Age Thinking" to describe this kind of nostalgia for a time period that you only know through literature, art & music. As defined in the film, "Golden Age Thinking" is:

"the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in."

and further:

"it is a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present" and that "nostalgia is denial, denial of the painful present."

(quote source: Huffington Post)

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What's wrong with simply saying "unexperienced nostalgia" or nostalgia you've never experienced?

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No one seems quite sure if nostalgia can be correctly used regarding something you have not personally experienced. I'm going to say that it can, because I have found more than one seemingly respectable source with a definition that does not include that personal experience as a necessary condition for nostalgia.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online: a feeling of pleasure and sometimes slight sadness at the same time as you think about things that happened in the past

Merriam-Webster: a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition; also : something that evokes nostalgia

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I suppose it would make decent sense to just explicitly state nostalgia being without experience, this I think would be more widely digestible for readers than any lesser known term. –  Bob Dec 1 '11 at 14:51
    
@Bob I see your point. I'm resistant, however, to complicate it unnecessarily. Are you saying that, despite these definitions from respected sources, most people expect that nostalgia can only be about something personally experienced? I'm not saying they don't. I just don't know. How do we find that out? –  sarah Dec 8 '11 at 6:46

There is a term advocated by C.S. Lewis and others that fits the bill: sehnsucht.

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sehnsucht

I've been known to use this term for its direct meaning as a "longing and nostalgia for a far-off home one has never visited," but it can be inflected or further defined to describe what you mean. So far, it's the most satisfactory English (technically, German) noun I've found to describe this phenomena.

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This is technically not an answer, since we are strictly talking about English words, but there is a term in Brazilian Portuguese that encompasses the feeling you've described: saudade. Enough of your readers may be familiar with it, depending on the context.

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English has been known to take words from other languages... ;) –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 30 '11 at 19:43
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True, but I don't believe it has reached the level of, say, hors d'oeuvre. –  The English Chicken Nov 30 '11 at 21:22
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And with that attitude, it never will! :P –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 30 '11 at 21:43
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I always thought saudade could perfectly well refer to things you have never experienced. If we look to the Wikipedia article as a benchmark for what people think the word means, we see the following quoted in the opening section: "...vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist... a turning towards the past or towards the future." –  alcas Nov 30 '11 at 23:29
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@alcas I am a native Portuguese speaker and I've never seen "saudade" used in that sense. –  Orion Nov 30 '11 at 23:30

I would call it longing for a bygone era, but I can't think of a more concise term.

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How about just "longing"? –  user7626 Dec 1 '11 at 0:39

protected by tchrist Dec 25 '13 at 6:26

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