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On Sonder
  1. Deborah Bowman
  1. Correspondence to Professor Deborah Bowman, Institute of Medical and Biomedical Education, St George's, University of London, Room 6.73, London SW17 0RE, UK; dbowman{at}

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Three years ago, John Koenig added the word ‘sonder’ to his splendid Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. ‘Sonder’ is the realisation that others are leading lives as complex, vivid and rich as our own. By a made up word (at least it is made up in the English language), emotional truths are conveyed. It is more than a mere repackaging of empathy. It speaks to the unarticulated depths of human existence, the knotty, and often invisible, entanglement of connections, the temporality of relationships and the transience of interactions. Awareness of, and attention to, sonder allow for the development of moral imagination and infinite curiosity.

The concept of sonder resonates throughout this edition of Medical Humanities. Although the papers in this issue are diverse and perhaps on first sight, seemingly unconnected, they share a commitment to recognising and valuing sonder. In all of the contributions, there is, whether it is explicitly expressed or not, the sense that the authors have noticed and attended to the unique character, experience or perspective of another, often someone or something that is perhaps too little explored, often overlooked or misunderstood.

Beyond the contents of this issue of the journal, sonder is a word that captures the essence of medical humanities work. It recognises, values and appreciates the unique subjective experience of individuals whilst acknowledging the relational context in which we all live, both in health and in illness. It is an area of inquiry that is concerned with exploring meanings and that which may be invisible to many. In its …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.