Brain Food #626

When there is no word to describe something

Thoughts of the day

Mrs Dalloway, one of the most quietly groundbreaking novels of the English language, was published on this day, in May 1925. Virginia Woolf’s story follows the thoughts of two characters in parallel, as they make their way through London on a single day.

One of the main characters of the novel, Septimus Warren Smith, is a World War I veteran who is suffering from post-war guilt and despair, and is sunk in deep depression.

The term PTSD only came to be in 1980, some 55 years after the novel was published, and the character of Septimus came into literary existence. Septimus often finds it hard to communicate with those around him, his eloquent inner monologues dominating most of the scenes he appears in.

The power of words is once again proven as an essential tool for communication and mutual understanding. It could explain why the recent New York Times article that defined our collective feeling as ‘languishing’ went viral.

May also happens to be Mental Health Awareness month. As Septimus shows, just because there is no word for what someone may be feeling, it does not mean that it is not real.


The below exhibition of Black Book by Christopher Wool shows a collection of words used to label people, commodified and hung for the world to see. The work itself, a combination of stencilled letters, challenges the meaning of the word ‘painting’.