35

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?

  • 5
    I've often felt the same lack. – Charles Nov 30 '11 at 19:05
  • 1
    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
  • 3
    One thing's for sure: nostalgia ain't what it used to be. – Hugo Dec 6 '11 at 22:18
  • 1
    I believe Carly Rae Jepsen describes this in her pop hit "Call Me Maybe" when she sings: "Before you came into my life I missed you so bad, I missed you so, so bad." – iglvzx Dec 25 '13 at 17:58

10 Answers 10

21

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.

  • 1
    +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
  • 1
    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. – Jane Panda Dec 1 '11 at 0:21
21

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.

19

I think "yearning" captures a fair portion of that feeling.

References:

"A persistent, often wistful or melancholy desire; a longing."

"a strong feeling of wishing for something, especially something that you cannot have or get easily"

14

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

  • 2
    How about just "longing"? – user7626 Dec 1 '11 at 0:39
4

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

  • 1
    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. – Jane Panda Dec 1 '11 at 14:51
  • 1
    @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
2

How about vicarious nostalgia.

That would be nostalgia experienced through the accounts of others.

1

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

1

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)

0

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 -

  • 4
    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
-5

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.

  • 1
    Sorry for the downvotes, but dé-jà vu has nothing to do with the question at hand – mplungjan Dec 25 '13 at 21:55

protected by tchrist Dec 25 '13 at 6:26

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

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