Bach's Brandenburg #3 came on the radio this morning on the way to school (does anyone else's kids tell them to turn their music down?) and the kids and I talked about how Bach had written the Brandenburgs for the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt who, lacking the musicians to have them performed, basically stuck them in a drawer and forgot about them.

It occurred to me that the Margrave, had he had any sense of what had been given him, would have experienced great regret at never having heard them performed. But given that he was unaware of what he had, he had no regrets in that regard. I believe, however, that he should have. So is there a word for a regret that someone should have had, but didn't know that they should have had that regret?

I know that one can regret in advance and that that there is a word for something you wanted to know but then regretted knowing it. It's kind of the opposite of Lagniappe. I definitely feel proxy regret for the Margrave. But what do I call that which he should have felt?

  • 1
    An unnoticed opportunity?
    – Davo
    May 23, 2017 at 19:45
  • 1
    If you haven't read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, I highly recommend it. May 24, 2017 at 0:37
  • 1
    "If only I had known . . ."--but Barnes' character never does know.
    – Xanne
    May 24, 2017 at 5:40
  • 1
    It seems unlikely that there is a single word for an emotion that was not experienced, but which a non-contemporary commentator believes should have been.
    – Spagirl
    May 24, 2017 at 13:59
  • 1
    I had a friend who loved Beethoven's symphonies and his daughters asked him on many occasions to turn down the volume. In answer to your question, my best stab is two words "counterfactual regret."
    – Al Maki
    May 24, 2017 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


I don't know of a word in English, but maybe the German "Sehnsucht:"

Some psychologists use the word sehnsucht to represent thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences.

Emphasis mine.

They were all Germans.

  • This is probably as close as one could hope for. Plus, it's a cool word. May 24, 2017 at 16:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.