The thing about apotonia is that you feel like you’re not really there at the time but it’s a particularly vivid memory afterwards, much more vivid and lasting than if you had just felt normal.

Apotonia is obviously (to people familiar with the Meccano set of word parts) a word made of two Greek pieces: apo–, from ἀπο ‘off, away, from’, and –tonia, from τόνος ‘tone, condition’. There are plenty of words in English containing one or the other of these (often the –tonia shows up as –tonic, as in catatonic, pentatonic, and gin and tonic). In this word, they come together… to stand apart.

I hope that you all have experienced apotonia more than once in your lives. I’m not saying that it’s a wonderful experience, but not having experienced it is a sign of a life lived so far from the edges that when at last you do find yourself at an edge, it may destroy you utterly. Apotonia is a sign that you have gotten into a situation where you are… outside yourself. Not beside yourself; that just means you’re very upset. Apotonia is not upset. Upset is like thrusting your head into the swirl of a flushing toilet. Apotonia is like watching yourself on TV as you flush the toilet.

Apotonia is that moment at far-too-late-o’clock in a bibulous party when you find yourself alone with that one person and there’s a thing happening between you that you wanted to happen but can’t really believe is happening.

Apotonia is that time in the last half hour of a marathon (I mean a full marathon, 42.195 kilometres) when you are a singularity in brainspace watching a spider-ball of pain bounce its way up an asphalt cliff while crowds wave from behind fences, and you know that there must be a finish line up there somewhere so all you can do is keep moving.

Apotonia is that infinite point when you’re one toke over the line – OK, maybe two or three or where.line.was.it.not.saw.pass – and you’re sending telegraphs to your mouth and getting newspaper reports back on what it said and approximately what other people said, and someone in the ceiling must be moving your limbs with strings because you sure aren’t and anyway they’re not yours at the moment.

And, if you’re like me, you get a little corner of apotonia any time you have to call a stranger on the telephone. You’re doing it but a part of you is just watching in disbelief and paralysis as you do.

Apotonia. You’re away from yourself. You are your ghost watching your body keep on living. And then, eventually, you get it together again.

Don’t bother looking up apotonia. It’s not in any dictionary. That fact in itself is amazing. It’s just a weird happenstance that there is no word in established use made of these two combining parts that were just waiting to be put together. And, by weird happenstance, there is no single tidy word naming the outside-yourself experience.

Well, now there is. We’ve got it together at last. Apotonia: my new old word for this week. You know you need it.

This week, I’m making my new old word available to all readers. Usually it’s my subscribers-only post for people who have subscribed to Sesquiotica on Patreon. Consider subscribing for as little as $1 a month. For as little as $2 a month you can listen to me reading all my blog posts instead of having to read them to yourself.

One response to “apotonia

  1. David Milne-Ives

    Nicely wrought; I’ll use this to help convey to my Theory of Knowledge students the sort of ‘distance’ that they are trying to achieve for meta-analysis – ‘thinking about thinking’. Your example of ‘phoning a stranger’ rang me like a bell.

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