Does any culture have a word for that "what if I suddenly..." feeling?
September 21, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

Name That Thing! You know that feeling you get sometimes when you wonder what would happen if you did something outrageous- punched a cop, stepped off a building, peed on the dinner table? No? Well, I'm sure I'm not the only one, because both Daniel Clowes (in Eightball) and P.G. Wodehouse (in Carry On, Jeeves) mention it. The problem is, what do you call it? Does any culture have a word for this? I certainly can't think of an (American) English word or phrase shorter than "You know that feeling when...", etc.
posted by paul_smatatoes to Writing & Language (75 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
I have that feeling a lot. I always ask (assuming I am with someone) "What you would do if I pushed you into that fountain?" Or whatever I am fantasizing about. And I genuinely want to know what they would do. I really like it when I get a real response, such as, "I would obviously be wet and then I would climb out and catch you and then I would throw you into the fountain and stand there and laugh." It isn't nearly as much fun well the response is some fakey appalled gasp or blow off as if I would never actually do what I am proposing.
posted by sulaine at 11:25 AM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Excited, thrilled, hyped...
posted by scheptech at 11:26 AM on September 21, 2006

I suppose that didn't really answer your question though. Deviant fantasies?
posted by sulaine at 11:26 AM on September 21, 2006

casual outrages.
posted by krautland at 11:31 AM on September 21, 2006

You too, huh?
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:36 AM on September 21, 2006

isn't the word "impulses"?
posted by rampy at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2006

Spontaneous Crazy?

I don’t know what it is called generally, my friends and I called it the “Crazy Sparkle”, I.E. “Oh Crap, Jenny has the Crazy Sparkle”

posted by French Fry at 11:38 AM on September 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

Considering the question does not necessitate context aside from the act of wondering about an (assumedly) negative outcome, I'd presume the word you are looking for is curiosity. Beware, it may kill your cat.

If you really are only referencing the feeling you get from this situational curiosity, it may be excitement, fear, trepidation, or none of the above - depending on your cumulative experiences and current cognitive disposition. Who knows, maybe you punch cops all the time? You'd be pretty desensitized, so this nebulous feeling would not be a universal constant.
posted by prostyle at 11:42 AM on September 21, 2006

Edgar Allen Poe called it "The Imp of the Perverse."
posted by saladin at 11:46 AM on September 21, 2006 [7 favorites]

In childhood, I read the E.A. Poe phrase "the imp of the perverse" and have always thought of that when faced with the urge to perform some undesirable and (as you say) "outrageous" act.
posted by Elsa at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2006 [3 favorites]

posted by Elsa at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2006

Actually, I like the name you gave it -- the "What if I suddenly..." feeling.

I get this impulse all the time. One of my favorites is thinking later about how someone who had been annoyingly chatty with me, such as the guy who sells newspapers outside my grocery store, would react if I just punched them in the face. Not that I've ever punched anyone in my life, it's just wierd to think about doing totaly socially unacceptable and unexpected things.

I also think this feeling contributes to most people's fear of precipices - such as the edges of buildings or cliffs.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2006

[Reserves Crazy Sparkle as next username]
posted by Miko at 11:48 AM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seconding crazy sparkle! I've had that feeling. I remember being in grade school, thinking I was moments away from just running around the classroom like I was on fire and then wondering if I'd actually just sat in my seat AFTER running around the classroom like I was on fire. It's a weird feeling, not entirely pleasant. I've had similar notions since, but I don't personally equate them with fantasy or impulse.
posted by zombiebunny at 11:56 AM on September 21, 2006

I believe that the thing that seperates "normal" folk from "crazy" folk is that us normals don't listen to the voices inside our heads that say "what would happen if I pushed this guy into oncoming traffic?" or "what if I hit the accelerator and hit the jump created by that flatbed tow-truck?"

The nice thing about good writers is that they can make us visit these curious thoughts.
posted by Vindaloo at 11:59 AM on September 21, 2006

Response by poster: it's distinct from both "impulse" and "curiosity" because there's a crucial "personally doing the unexpected and breaking some sort of social more". Impulses can just be buying wacky hats or taking a long walk at lunch, and curiosity, while it can lead to negative outcomes, is just a general inquisitiveness.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 12:07 PM on September 21, 2006

Response by poster: "crazy sparkle" in German is "verrückter Schein". i like that a little better.
posted by paul_smatatoes at 12:11 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would call it "sociopathic fantasizing". I guess that's two words though. In case that sounds judgemental, I'll cop to doing it myself occasionally. Still, it is what it is...
posted by Humanzee at 12:15 PM on September 21, 2006

I get this all the time, with both extremely dangerous and just weird impulses. I like "imp of the perverse."
posted by lackutrol at 12:16 PM on September 21, 2006

"Being confronted by your own ultimate freedom" is what we call it in our house. I don't know where my wife got that phrase.

It's that realization that you could do something with just a small action that would change everything - that you steer around a left turn many times a day, but if you made the same action now, into oncoming highway traffic, it would become one of those scenes that happen to other people, and everything would look, feel, and be different - and there would be no way to undo that action.
posted by crabintheocean at 12:17 PM on September 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

My name for it has always been "High Cliff syndrome". (Because the little voice whispers, "Jump!")
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

posted by scazza at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2006

I usually get this in food courts in malls, for some reason. What if I took all of the samples at the Chinese place? What if I went over to that random guy and asked if I could have some of his fries? What if I just sat with a group of people I don't know?
posted by danb at 12:25 PM on September 21, 2006

I'm glad other people get this. I quite often fantasize about breaking plates or smashing beer bottles in restaurants. That said, I'm unconvinced there isn't a word for it in German. Weird pathological behaviors and emotions are what German's good for!
posted by lunalaguna at 12:25 PM on September 21, 2006

Being a teenager?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:28 PM on September 21, 2006

Man you people are crazy and need help.
posted by poppo at 12:30 PM on September 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

My Austrian friend said there's a word for something similar...Geistesblitz (literally, "ghost storm" or "ghost lightning"), but that's more like an epiphany.
posted by lunalaguna at 12:35 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Within political/jounalist circles in New Zealand, they have a phrase "the stuff it factor". It refers to the phenomenon of a voter who's a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of one party, and who has every intention of voting for that party throughout an election campaign, may even have campaigned for that party... then inexplicably (and deliberately) votes for an opposing party candidate because in that split-second they're confronted with the ballot paper in the booth, they think, 'ahhh, STUFF IT!" and vote against their proclaimed political values.
posted by Pigpen at 12:37 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

not necessarily the proper use of the word, but I think "vertigo" describes the condition nicely.
posted by fishfucker at 12:39 PM on September 21, 2006

Also, "Vom Affen gebissen." (You were bit by a monkey.)
posted by lunalaguna at 12:42 PM on September 21, 2006

In my home, we always called that type of behavior "pulling a Falling Down."

(As in, "I was really frustrated at work today and I almost pulled a Falling Down.")

That said, a one word description could be useful. I don't know about crazy sparkle though; it seems benevolent somehow, as if someone with a crazy sparkle might spontaneously sprinkle you with confetti instead of shove you off a bridge.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 12:43 PM on September 21, 2006

Impulses can just be buying wacky hats or taking a long walk at lunch...

Not if hats scare the living shit out of you, or your countrymen frown upon long walks at lunch due to various cultural myths that hinge on Bad Things Happening when you dilly-dally during your snack break. "Just" is a very pejorative term in the context of discussing social norms and acceptability, it assumes a great deal of individual history that may or may not be analagous to an acceptable "norm".

...curiosity,while it can lead to negative outcomes, is just a general inquisitiveness.

Well, you're the one who is limiting the scope of the application of the word itself. I don't see how it is inapplicable simply because you feel the supposedly negative context of these situations facilitates a radically different perspective compared to other circumstances that have confronted you throughout your existence. Step out of your reality tunnel and into one of a schizophrenic, and you'll be awash in these feelings pulling you every which way, hinging on the most ridiculous things you couldn't possibly fathom.
posted by prostyle at 12:46 PM on September 21, 2006

I'd call it a catharsis fantasy. If just thinking about it actually does give you significant some emotional release I suppose it could be called a cathartic fantasy but it doesn't really work that way for me.
posted by teleskiving at 1:00 PM on September 21, 2006

Actually, prostyle, I think what you paul meant, despite using the word "just," is that "impulse" and "curiosity" are more broad than he wants, as opposed to more limited.
I mean, if I told French Fry that I had an impulse today, that wouldn't be as informative as if I told him/her that I'd had "the crazy sparkle."

I think there should be a word describing this particular subset of curiosity about certain impulses, as well.
posted by solotoro at 1:02 PM on September 21, 2006

I've changed my mind - "cathartic fantasy" is better. Cathartic means "relating to catharsis" as well as "producing catharsis", so it covers all the bases, albeit in an ambiguous way.

I spent way too long thinking about this interesting question.
posted by teleskiving at 1:07 PM on September 21, 2006

Sometimes if I am talking to someone at work while holding a coffee, I suddenly think about throwing it in their face for no apparent reason. I don't know if this is the same sort of thing but I would like an explanation... and god I hope I never have a synapse bypass that makes it happen.
posted by Frasermoo at 1:09 PM on September 21, 2006

Wasn't it Milan Kundera who said that vertifo wasn't the fear of falling, it was the fear of jumping? Maybe there's a word for it in Czech.
posted by catesbie at 1:13 PM on September 21, 2006

VertiGO. Jeez.
posted by catesbie at 1:13 PM on September 21, 2006

What a great question. I get this so bad when I walk over a certain high bridge spanning a canal that I experience electric shock feelings running down the outsides of both legs, and I once astounded a friend with whom I was having an exciting argument while crossing that same bridge by getting down on my hands and knees and crawling the last 30 feet (I just had to!). In school I did get up and run around the classroom many times up until sixth grade-- and a number of other things too embarassing to detail here.

I've never had 'Tourette's' tossed in my direction, but I do experience a measure of 'the forbidden made compulsory' in this, and I'm guessing that's at the root of your question, paul_smatatoes, as well as some of the other answers.
posted by jamjam at 1:33 PM on September 21, 2006

I would've said "the imp of the perverse" as well.

Maybe "acting out"? It's kinda like OCD, but not exactly. Very interesting question. Personally, I like lunalaguna's "ghost storm".
posted by stinkycheese at 1:34 PM on September 21, 2006

I was just writing about this.
posted by Aghast. at 2:06 PM on September 21, 2006

I don't know the name of it, but it's apparently a common question in those psychometric tests which are popular nowadays, as in, "when you stand on a high place, do you ever get the urge to jump off?".

My friend had that question on a test for people who wanted to join the Army Reserves, said yes, and got in. And I've heard of it being asked in a couple of other contexts too.

So, maybe ask a psychologist what that question is testing for?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:07 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh God, I don't know what you call it but I'm glad I'm not the only one.
posted by Anonymous at 2:28 PM on September 21, 2006

I think the urge to commit self harm and violence are separate to the urge to do something strange or out-of-the-ordinary.

I recall reading somewhere about the impulse to jump in front of a train when it is approaching the platform. The gist of the article was that the primal self-preservation instinct kicks in and makes you visualise or experience the notion of being hit by the train. Then, mere milliseconds later, the rational brain kicks in and says "No, that is a Bad Idea. Move behind the yellow line and LIVE! for another day".

The article also dealt in some way with the violent impulsive thoughts, and mentioned the same kind of lower brain functions spooling out violent, primal urges, with the rational brain reeling you in saying "No, that is a Bad Idea. Refrain from pummelling the clown to mush. Treat yourself to another beer."

The other reasons I've heard or read about for this kind of behaviour is OCD or ADD in some cases, or a manifestation of Stress Response. I don't know if I buy any of these.

The other, more fanciful imaginings one might be able to put down to boredom.

At any rate, there doesn't seem to be a single good word for it, so the opportunity is there to coin a new one, Paul!
posted by snailer at 2:30 PM on September 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

My first thought was "the Imp of the Perverse"
posted by Megafly at 2:30 PM on September 21, 2006

poe's phrase "imp of the perverse" comes to in, "wow, my imp of the perverse is egging me to..."
posted by ifjuly at 2:35 PM on September 21, 2006

I want to suggest some form of whim or whimsey, but that's along the lines of impulse, and not really specific enough. But I just looked up whim and learned that it's short for whim-wham, which seems like it would be a good term for this, although it means something else already.

I get this all the time though. Practically whenever I'm holding a bottle I think about smashing it on someone. Also, at plays and serious concerts, or in a lecture, when the room is mostly quiet, I often think about screaming something absurd or throwing something.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:36 PM on September 21, 2006

Jack Karaoke taught me that the French call high cliff syndrome l'appelle d'vide. But yes, I'd also say imp of the perverse, and I quite like crazy sparkle too.
posted by melissa may at 2:42 PM on September 21, 2006 [2 favorites]

Later, Turtle came along and taught me the correct spelling, l'appel du vide, but I'd forgot.
posted by melissa may at 2:46 PM on September 21, 2006

Babelfish translates l'appel du vide as: The Call of the Vacuum.
posted by jayCampbell at 3:08 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Although I don't have a word for this (rebellious impulse? anarchic daydream?) I tend to get them occasionally - from reading everyone else's posts here, I can't help but wonder whether this is something that is limited to those who don't follow their impulses, don't act irrationally, or don't rebel against whatever.
I grew up really straight-laced, but I'll sometimes get the urge to do something just to see what reaction I get, or to see what it feels like; stuff that I wouldn't normally see. Perhaps if you're the kind of person who regularly pushes the limits of things, then you don't get "chaos cravings" as it's commonplace to you. Or perhaps people that cause mayhem are those that can't differentiate between just "destructively daydreaming" about dropping a glass bottle off the edge of a tall building, and actually doing so...
*strokes chin and contemplates whether it's possible to punch through a plasterboard wall... nah, better not...
posted by Chunder at 3:11 PM on September 21, 2006

Babelfish translates l'appel du vide as: The Call of the Vacuum
Interesting. That's vacuum as in space, or emptiness, and suggests being sucked into the crazy void. How about the Loony Hoover?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:45 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I hope Loony Hoover catches on, because I want to see the etymology in the OED entry.
posted by danb at 3:55 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

What a fascinating thread. The feeling in question, I think, is related to brabant, a word coined by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd and meaning "very much inclined to see how far you can push someone."

It also makes me think of a college roommate who once told me that he always became afraid whenever he had to yawn in class, because he dreaded encountering an irresistible impulse to proclaim "BOOOORIIING!!!"
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:05 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

How about "Inhibited Tourette's"

I just made that up now.
You cocksuckers.
posted by seanyboy at 4:14 PM on September 21, 2006

A great question indeed. Thank fuck I'm not the only one!
posted by ob at 4:21 PM on September 21, 2006

Another vote for "imp of the perverse."

Note to the person with the Austrian friend - in German "Geist" and related words are not just "ghost" but also "spirit", and adjectivally "mental" - eg "Geisteskrankheit" is "mental illness".

I would say "brainstorm" would be a better translation of "Geitesblitz" and actually that's not a bad description for a crazy impulse, either.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:33 PM on September 21, 2006

Yeah, the ""Tourette's Impulse" is not bad, although T's does not cover all the things you might feel an impulse to do. Jumping off a cliff has nothing to do with T's, for example.

It does cover, however, my own Crazy Sparkle, which is to walk around the office with my willy hanging out the front of my fly.
posted by scarabic at 4:34 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

jamjam, you should read David Sedaris' Naked.
Anyway, I love this question and often get a similar feeling, but usually not so violent. All the name suggestions above are pretty good. "Looney Hoover" - HA!
posted by zoinks at 5:01 PM on September 21, 2006

I once said to a friend of mine that "fantasies of violence get me through my day".

I like "cathartic fantasy". The fantasy, by allowing me to at least momentarily and fictitiously experience ripping with my teeth into the arrogant bastard's veins, lets me continue to talk to that dude in the next office over. It's a release of the anger.

Yay! for impulse control, by the way.
posted by Netzapper at 5:04 PM on September 21, 2006

l'appel du vide

In Phillippe Sarde's brilliant score to Roman Polanski's brilliant film The Tenant, there's a track titled "L'appel du Verre," which I assume must be a pun on this.

Way cool! Learn a new thing every day.


As for what to call it in this language, my vote goes to Crazy Sparkle. It captures the meaning and how the meaning feels. "Imp of the perverse" runs second.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:11 PM on September 21, 2006

I've never considered the term for this feeling, although I will admit to having it, so I've got no predefined word to volunteer.

If we are taking votes though, put me down for "bit by the crazy monkey", since I like the ring it has! :)
posted by ranglin at 5:20 PM on September 21, 2006

I think "the call of the void" might be a better translation than "the call of the vaccuum". Void as in oblivion, nothingness.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:31 PM on September 21, 2006

I don't know what it's called, but Hunter S. Thompson made a career out of documenting its effects.
posted by flabdablet at 5:37 PM on September 21, 2006

There is an official psychology name for it. Someone in my residence in university had to do a research project and came around asking us all if we got these impulses etc. But I can't remember the name; I think it was a boring pair of words like "perverse impulse" or something similar, but can't remember exactly what, and can't find it in online psych glossaries.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:07 PM on September 21, 2006

brilliant question. i think everyone has these impulses. no need to be scared by having them -- as long as you don't do them.
posted by sdn at 6:32 PM on September 21, 2006

I totally second Crazy Sparkle. Come on, people--let's force a meme here! Use it in your everyday speech! Write about it! Tattoo it on your forehead!

It looks like we have a sniglet on our hands, and if we're really going to coin some neologism (and hope it sticks), it has to roll off the tongue and be fun to say. "The Stuff It Factor" and similar appropriations just don't work.

"Oh, man."
"Well, I...just, walking across that balcony gave me that Crazy Sparkle!"
"Oh, I know. Scares the crap out of me though..."
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 7:12 PM on September 21, 2006

I love "imp of the perverse", not only for its comparatively high-brow provenance, but also for its image of the little demon sitting on your shoulder, goading you to do Bad Things.
posted by Quietgal at 7:49 PM on September 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you want a single word, I'd go with id ... and it even has a calling card:

posted by rob511 at 8:34 PM on September 21, 2006

Funny, I don't remember when I last got such an impulse. I've had them since I can remember. I've acted on them quite a lot, but then, I was partying quite hardy in the early 70s, when oddball behavior was fashionable. I'm most likely to get such an impulse when dealing with someone/s who are too starched. It is almost never a violent urge, rather an urge to do something shocking or obscene or just totally unexpected.

I love 'Imp of the Perverse'. I've heard it before, but didn't know from whence it came. Crazy sparkle works, but 'sparkle' just doesn't seem quite there.

I find it quite fascinating to note: I used to get the wild idea (Wild Hare [up the ass] is another good term used for such things) of jumping off this or in front of that. I don't any longer, haven't in quite awhile.
posted by Goofyy at 1:27 AM on September 22, 2006

Jumping into oncoming traffic, particularly large vehicles, is the most common impulse for me. The thin line between life and death is an interesting thing to contemplate. I think "anti-social impulse" best describes it, but I do like the looney hoover suggestion.
posted by Onanist at 1:43 AM on September 22, 2006

Frisson, perhaps.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:33 AM on September 22, 2006

I would say that "impish" ( given to naughty impulses ), is the word you're looking for — except its etymology implies that it only applies to the crazy sparkles that might apply to children.
posted by silusGROK at 7:14 AM on September 22, 2006

It's a perverted impulse. It just doesn't sound right because when people use the word "pervert" or "perversion" they usually mean sexual deviation.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:18 PM on September 22, 2006

latent sociopathy
posted by quite unimportant at 7:30 PM on September 22, 2006

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