A Word on Wednesday: Feel


Feeling is our translation of the touch sensation. We gather detail from our five senses; touch gives us feeling.

Feel, as a verb, and when used with an object, can mean the tangible described above to the abstract sensing that which cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. It is the word we use as short hand for intuition — something feels right, something feels wrong.

It is interesting that one can only detect four feelings from the sense of touch according to science. Skin only detects cold, heat, contact, and pain.

Pleasure, then, is an interpretation. It is not a necessary opposite of pain or the absence of such. It is rather a mental dexterity of what the skin detects. Does rain bring you pleasure? A soft warm rain on a June evening still light by extended day and cold sleeting November rain at a darkened 5 p.m. feel different. One can imagine that the June rain feels good or bad depending on perception; same goes for the November rain.

Another definition of feel is the become conscious of one’s way by touching. Often, though we use feel much less literally and use it to describe being emotionally affected by real or imagined stimuli — feeling happy or feeling blessed.

We often feel reflexively without intention. We feel slighted; we feel overwhelmed; we feel angry. We feel perceptively, a gut feeling.

When common words become so ambiguous, I find seeking out the origin to be helpful in getting to the source of the word. Feel is derived from Old English felan “to touch or have a sensory experience of; perceive, sense (something),” in late Old English “have a mental perception,” from Proto-Germanic *foljanan (source also of Old Saxon gifolian, Old Frisian fela, Dutch voelen, Old High German vuolen, German fühlen “to feel,” Old Norse falma “to grope”), which is of uncertain origin, possibly from a PIE *pal- “to touch, feel, shake, strike softly” (source also of Greek psallein “to pluck” the harp), or from PIE root *pel- (5) “to thrust, strike, drive.” source

In Germanic languages, the specific word for “perceive by sense of touch” has tended to evolve to apply to the emotions. The connecting notion might be “perceive through senses which are not referred to any special organ.” Sense of “be conscious of a tactile sensation, sense pain, pleasure, illness, etc.; have an emotional experience or reaction,” developed by c. 1200, also “have an opinion or conviction;” that of “to react with sympathy or compassion” is from mid-14c. Meaning “to try by touch” is from early 14c. From late 14c. as “know (something) beforehand, to have foreknowledge of.” To feel like “want to” attested from 1829. source

I like to think I can keep my feelings to the tangible, but as a writer, a dreamer, a creator of worlds, I feel that which does not exist. That is the scary part of make believe.

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