The suffix -algia comes from the Greek word meaning ‘pain’, and is normally used in medical terms that categorise physical distress, as in myalgia (‘muscle pain’) and odontalgia (‘toothache’). By contrast, the less specialised word nostalgia refers to mental anguish, but its original meaning was ‘homesickness’, and this too was a medically accepted condition. It’s only more recently that the current sense of ‘a sentimental longing for the past’ took over. A new -algia term, solastalgia, was coined in 2003 to describe the feelings of loss at the destruction of one’s environment. Its creator, Australian academic Glenn Albrecht, described it as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home” (The Conversation, 7.8.2012). It’s a curiously formed word – sola(ce) + (no)stalgia – the first part intimating the comfort that can be derived from nature, but has taken its place among a set of what Albrecht calls ‘psychoterratic’ terms like biophilia (‘love of the natural world’) and ecoanxiety. While you won’t find all of these in dictionaries yet, a recent edition of the prestigious medical journal Lancet (November, 2015) recognised solastalgia as a mental health impact of climate change. It looks like solastalgia, unlike many aspects of our threatened landscape, is here to stay.
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