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Lex maniac

Investigating changes in American English vocabulary over the last 50 years

emotional journey

(1980’s | therapese | “what one is going through,” “going through changes,” “progress(ion)”)

Wouldn’t “Emotional Journey” be a great name for a band? I know, “Journey” has been used, but that name hits all the right notes somehow.

“Emotional journey” comes up often in arts writing, and it can mean the sequence of feelings that a song, story, poem, frieze, etc. puts the viewer, etc. through, or simply the progressions of people’s feelings that occur within the narrative. (It is something that only individuals or small groups that function as a unit can undergo, but there is no reason an entire nation, or the whole world, couldn’t participate.) In other words, it may be what the character or performer goes through, or it may be what you go through — and there’s no reason they need be the same. Before 1980 or thereabouts, the phrase normally denoted travel of some kind that had a strong cathartic effect on the voyager, as a return to a childhood home, a religious pilgrimage, etc. The therapese usage turns that around; the emotions are the driving force, and the journey tags along as metaphor, a shadow of its former self. Once a comfortable adjective-noun combo, now it’s closer to a compound noun.

“Journey” is the word to watch, because it has grown into many phrases, such as “adoption journey,” “cancer treatment journey,” “mental health journey,” “weight-loss journey.” The use of “journey” is apt, implying progress through sequential stages toward a long-range goal, usually some form of healing, reconciliation, or self-improvement. We used to say “come to terms with” (accept or acknowledge), and often “emotional journey” refers to that process. It appeals to a long literary tradition that includes The Odyssey, the Divine Comedy, and Pilgrim’s Progress, and it has affinities with diaries (“journals”) and the epistolary as well, fictional or otherwise. In its modern uses, it also generally connotes a difficult, grueling time (sometimes it’s simply a euphemism for “prolonged trauma”); it is often used to talk about survivors of serious accidents or illness. That, too, is at least somewhat in accord with the literal meaning. A journey is a long trip (as in “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”) that might very easily include an epic adventure or two, but even if it doesn’t, it will take some time and take something out of you. A literal journey has a destination, and figurative ones do as well, always with the understanding that you may never actually get there — but it remains a reason to keep striving. For all that “emotional journey” suggests pain and sorrow, it retains an optimistic sound; as long as you stay on it, you have a chance to get where you’re going.

While I’m here, I’ll posit “notional journey” to refer to any fictional voyage in the tradition of Gulliver’s Travels or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “promotional journey” for a traveling salesman’s memoir, and “demotional journey” for dealing with lost status at the office.

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