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What's a word for conflicting emotions that are felt at the same time? For example, loneliness, sadness, happiness, being content but also feeling as if something isn't right?

To sum up: What's a word for something that is sad and funny at the same time?

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Does it need to be one word? I've heard the phrase "that is both depressing and hilarious" on more than one occasion. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jan 24 '12 at 21:18
A duketastrophe (if you're a fan of The Critic :) ) – Ben Brocka Jan 24 '12 at 21:31
It doesn't quite fit OP's request for "a word", but "tears of a clown" is certainly a standard phrase used in some contexts. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 23:29
@nick Funny, man, not scary. :P – Kit Z. Fox Jan 25 '12 at 0:38
"English" runs away – Shog9 Jan 25 '12 at 1:42

10 Answers 10

up vote 28 down vote accepted

The word you want is tragicomedy (noun) or tragicomic (adjective).

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+1. Beaten to the draw... – Irene Jan 24 '12 at 19:11
Although tragicomic is likely the form that the OP is looking for. – Gnawme Jan 24 '12 at 19:13
This is close, but not unequivocal. Sad and tragic share some characteristics but are not really synonyms. The OP may decide if it works for him well enough. – Robusto Jan 24 '12 at 19:24

I think bittersweet is the best word to describe this feeling.

both pleasant and painful or regretful: a bittersweet memory.

It's also less "modern" sounding than tragicomic and so would come across as more sincere.

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Bittersweet doesn't imply funny, though. – Irene Jan 24 '12 at 19:31
I think "tragic" is closer to "sad" than "sweet" is to "funny," swinging the count in favor of tragicomic over bittersweet in this example. – choster Jan 24 '12 at 23:13
I agree bittersweet is certainly more common than tragicomic in general parlance, but imho it's more akin to poignant - the "sweet" part generally implies overwhelming joy, rather than just something amusing/funny. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 23:26
I would still prefer two words like bittersweet laughter rather than the word tragicomic. – user606723 Jan 25 '12 at 0:51

I like the word "wry," although it has a large context.

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Yes, I like "wry" for a lot of contexts where sadness and humour are being juxtaposed. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 23:28

A general word for having simultaneous, contradictory emotions is ambivalent.

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According to that definition, yes, you're right. It would surprise me if that was a common usage, though. I've never heard it used that way. It's always been a lack of concern about the state of something to me. Being ambivalent about same-sex marriage to me doesn't mean your very enthusiastic about it, while also hating the idea. – DefenestrationDay Jan 25 '12 at 0:06
@DefenestrationDay Yeah, it normally connotes "simultaneous attraction toward and repulsion from" something or somebody [MW] -- but tragicomic had already been submitted... – Gnawme Jan 25 '12 at 0:23

Per other answers, tragicomic fits the bill - but its use is largely restricted to litcrit contexts.

In common parlance, pathos and the related pathetic are often used ironically, of something that in principle should arouse pity, but in fact is treated with wry humour. Not so common in speech is bathos, which often signifies a sudden transition from genuine pathos to ludicrous levity.

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But "pathetic" has largely taken on the meaning of "deserving contempt" rather than the old meaning of "deserving pity". If you say, "Bob is really pathetic" few people would reply, "Yes, I feel sorry for him, too". More likely they would say "Yes, he's a real jerk, isn't he?" or "No, I think he's a nice guy." – Jay Jan 24 '12 at 22:29
@Jay: Yes, I quite agree. Pathetic has been enthusiastically taken up for all sorts of contexts including various shades of "contemptible", including those where one is effectively laughing at the person thus described (not laughing with). – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 23:16

Perhaps the more common choice for what you're describing is ironic, but, admittedly, doesn't necessarily capture the presence of the two elements you cite. Nor does it seem likely that any one particular word has been established that's capable of accomplishing that feat. Is that what you're looking for or will a neologism do the trick?

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Maybe Gallows Humor isn't a perfect fit, but in general the Doom & Gloom of the style of humor could be considered to be fairly synonymous with sadness, and of course humor is basically a perfect fit for the funny half of the equation.

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Melancholy means for something to be both sad and happy at the same time. It has a nice, find feeling but still makes you sad

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dark (as in dark comedy) Lol-worthy (when something seems only sad, but you need to strike a funny abstract note without making a joke)

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I have seen lolsob. – TRiG Jan 25 '12 at 2:31

Since you're looking for a word describing one's state of mind and mood, and also conflicting emotions, perhaps, the word broody would help, as its first meaning is moody, meditative, introspective:

broody, adjective broodier, broodiest

  1. moody; meditative; introspective

  2. (of poultry) wishing to sit on or hatch eggs

  3. (informal) (of a woman) wishing to have a baby of her own


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