SNP’s word of the day: Anomie

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Word: Anomie

Meaning: A malaise, or an exaggerated feeling of being at loose ends, caused by the loss of values, social norms, and sense of purpose.

Usage: “Social media [networks] temper the anonymity and anomie that consumerism’s mass markets tend to impose by concretely attaching our identity to what we consume. They also provide new mechanisms of solace, administering doses of proof of our connectedness and influence. (As in: Oh, look! I’ve been retweeted!)” — The New Inquiry

You should know it because: Well, anomie is a very Wednesday word. You know, you’re in the middle of everything, but where are you going? It’s that kind of feeling. I’ve long thought anomie to be the antonym of bonhomie, which means good human friendliness, and while that’s not quite lexically true, it doesn’t ring false either. Anomie is alienation: it’s when Kirsten Dunst says, in Melancholia, that “we are evil and alone.” Or when Jonathan Franzen, in his essay “How To Be Alone,” writes: “The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.”

Anomie usually comes to no good. The word was really popularized by Emile Durkheim in fin-de-siecle France in his book Suicide (1897), which basically tells you everything. He defined it as “a rule that is a lack of rule,” “derangement,” and “an insatiable will.” It’s often associated with normlessness, which, in all our modern, disunited states of upheaval, and all our competing, ironically alienating forms of communication, seems about right. (No wonder I’ve read it in a whole handful of articles this week.)

Maybe the cure for all this anomie is bonhomie. Maybe it’s realizing you’re not alone, because you’re not that special. Maybe there’s no cure. The funny thing is, it’s such a feel-good word. Whenever I’ve got a case of anomie, I can just say it out loud, over and over. Anomie. Anomie. Try it. Anomie. Better, right?