I felt something and want to know the name of it: This feeling that something is missing, but it was never there, and never will be.

For example, suppose that a couple had a house built to have and raise children in. But before they could move in, they both died suddenly in an automobile accident. But they had no inheritors who could be found. So, the city took possession of the property and condemned it. So if you were to enter the property, you would find a pantry that never had food in it, and never will, a closet that never had clothes in it and never will, and a toy chest that never had toys in it and never will. the scene evokes sorrow, regret, and despair, at least in me.

But I am talking about that sense of eternal absence that evokes all those feelings. Is there a name for that?

  • 1
    Grief, melancholia, loss, depression, anhedonia, anomie, angst, hopelessness, futility, mourning, existential horror, existential dread, pathos, tragedy, sublimity, cosmic meaninglessness, indifference, take your pick...
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 8:22
  • 1
    It is a mistake to think that there is an English word for everything: there isn't. Sometimes a speaker/writer has to use several words to express a concept or the nuance of concept in a particular context.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 9:57
  • @StuartF A fine collection that sits nicely with Greybeard's equally valid and general comment. Synonymity is rarely perfect and is not even guaranteed to exist.
    – Anton
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 10:21
  • ... But German might: Sehnsucht (/ˈzeɪnzʊkt/, /ˈzeɪnzʊxt/) a wistful yearning for something past or something not yet experienced. 1902 W. James Varieties Relig. Experience xvi. 383 An excellent old German Lady..used to describe to me her Sehnsucht that she might yet visit ‘Philadelphia’, whose wondrous name had always haunted her imagination.
    – Greybeard
    Commented Jan 19, 2022 at 16:46

2 Answers 2


wistfulness (n.)

A sadly pensive longing vocabulary.com

wistful (adj.)

Someone who is wistful is sad because they want something and know that they cannot have it. Collins

Full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy also: inspiring such yearning

Musingly sad: PENSIVE m-w

Possibly related: anemoia (n.)

"Is there a term that defines nostalgia for something you've never experienced?"


I second the answer from @DjinTonic for John Koenig's term from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows: anemoia: n. nostalgia for a time you’ve never known (https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/post/105778238455/anemoia-n-nostalgia-for-a-time-youve-never)

However, the OP's question connotes something even more tragic, something that should have been but wasn't. Recently, my sister lost an otherwise perfectly healthy baby when her uterus ruptured during labor, causing the almost immediate death of the would-be child. There is an aspect of the callousness of the universe in that, an insouciant universe, a capricious universe. In that vein, I propose a Koenig-like term 'nonsouciance' - a portmanteau of 'nonesuch' and 'insouciance' - something without equal that could have been but was wiped out of possibility by an indifferent universe. Thou shalt not pass go and collect $200. Thou shalt go directly to jail.

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