if-only (n)

pl. if-onlys: a pining wish to have done something differently than one did. The conditional function thingified. Very often connected to the idea of time-travel, or wanting to curl up into a ball. A common symptom of someone suffering nostalgia (or mellalgia), or FOMO.

Seen most recently in Bud Foot’s book on the Connecticut Yankee:

“And yet, it seems to us, they [pre-Industrialists] must have thought of it; surely, like us, did if-onlys…’If only I could go back and change it.’ But nobody seems to have thought that way, at least from the evidence of the literature.”

First I saw it was in Lewis Sachar’s Holes (1998) where the protagonist spends an awful lot of time wishing things were different:

If only, if only,” the woodpecker sighs,
“The bark on the tree was as soft as the skies.”
While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely,
Crying to the moo-oo-oon,
If only, If only.”

mellalgia (n)

mellalgic (adj)

The opposite of nostalgia, mellalgia is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the future, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Ety. Greek: μέλλο: “future” + ἄλγος: “pain.”

Inspired by the late Svetlana Boym’s wonderful book, The Future of Nostalgia. Mellalgia is the topic of Proust’s unfinished book, Remembrance of Things to Come. C. J. Cherryh experiments with the idea of mellalgia in her short story, “The Threads of Time,” in which she describes her time traveling protagonist experiencing such a feeling:

He lived scattered lives in ages to come, and remembered the future with increasing melancholy.

I totally made this word up in the name of academese.