In Defense of Feels

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Title: In Defense of Feels
Creator: mithen
Date(s): May 17, 2013
Medium: Tumblr post
Topic: feels (the word)
External Links: online here, Archived version
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In Defense of Feels is a meta post by mithen. It contains several animated gifs.

"The term is, far from being a corruption of the language, an elegantly precise word that serves a very useful function."


I've seen, in a variety of places, decrying of what's sometimes called "Tumblr-speak," especially targeted toward the term "feels." "You should just say you feel something, not this ridiculous 'I have feels' thing," the argument goes. But today I wish to step up to the plate and give a light-hearted defense of "feels" for a moment--bear with me!
My main argument is that "feels" are actually qualitatively different from "feelings," and "having feels" is different from "having feelings" or "feeling something." "Feels" is actually a perfectly cromulent very useful word that describes a quite different emotional experience than "feeling" something. Specifically, feels are on the whole reserved for feelings related to the experience of fannish pleasure--in my experience, with an overtone of "a subset of extremely intense feelings that we all understand are linked to a fictional artifact." I've never heard anyone say something like "I had a lot of feels at my grandfather's funeral"--"feels" are reserved for Phil Coulson or the Doctor. I do see it used sometimes for a similar thing--emotions that are understood as fleeting but still crushingly intense while experienced--but on the whole it's used most often to discuss reactions to people and things not part of our day-to-day lives (Katara, Robert Downey Jr.).
It's also a tongue-in-cheek way to downplay those emotions, to ironically distance yourself from them a little bit and make clear you don't take them that seriously. They're not feelings, they're feels. It's actually an incredibly useful and complex term, one that serves to mark a very specific kind of experience and to simultaneously elevate and disparage it. Feels are overwhelming, they blot out everything in a rush of emotion, either good or bad.

Comments to the Post


Nicely put! It really is a different word, not just a shortening of "feelings." You'd think people would notice that they're used quite differently: when was the last time you heard someone say "I'm having a feeling about this" or "this gives me an emotion"? ;)

I'd say though that 'feels' are pure in their intensity, but also much more muddled than 'feelings'? For me, 'feels' often indicates having a bunch of emotions at once, particularly in that way that fiction can provide where, say, you're simultaneously excited because there's a new episode of your tv show, fascinated by its plot twist, and very upset because the plot twist makes a character you like sad, even if you think it's good for the story as a whole. It's not a word for the perhaps conflicting emotions you might feel about, say, a drawn-out break-up, but it's also not the word for straightforward "goddamn, $actor is hot" or "this kitten gif is the CUTEST" emotions because it's easier to attach specific terms to those?

For me, 'feels' often indicates having a bunch of emotions at once, particularly in that way that fiction can provide

Yes, this too.

Besides, fandom is also a place to let go of our inner adult control-freak that has to present as professional uber!mature all the time. We can relax and be silly. And have ~feels~. Lots and lots of feels. And not have to articulate exactly what we mean by those feels because everyone else (in fandom) already knows :D

You should do the "I have lost the ability to can" one too. Part of that is from when we are so overwhelmed by the ~feels~ that we have lost the ability to articulate what exactly we are feeling, and also we no longer even care to spend all that effort trying to articulate, because we don't even have to, since we have this lovely expression already created for us to use :-)

Not to mention this shorthand is an easy way for people from a variety of language backgrounds to have some fandom slang to communicate.

Perhaps the purity of it is more that it's just an emotion without necessary action attached? Obviously fandom does do tons of things in response to feels, but you don't HAVE to. If you want to flail about Sherlock's death and only flail, that's ok, in a way that it's not really ok if you're dealing with a rl death, or even a less serious rl event.

I don't know about fun, but it's certainly interesting? I like the idea that our mostly-female group is laying claim to having emotions and anguish and feeling really deeply about technical irrelevancies. Especially when you get (mostly) men going off the deep end about the incredible anguish of sports and how there are no words to describe the intensity and how enjoyable it is to raise hopes, and even have them dashed, and it's the best, truest thing in the world, etc., etc. and you just want to say, "yeah, buddy, you're just having feels, it's ok." Not that there's anything wrong with sports feels, but they're certainly not more meaningful than fandom feels, and I like how we've simply come to terms with them, instead of writing new articles monthly about how, gosh, has anyone noticed that sports inspire strong emotions, and sometimes, those emotions are not wholly joyous, but they are still nice to have????? How can this beeeeee????
This is a very cleverly put together post. Thanks for explaining the lingo to those of us not tumblring. :)
Well put. Although, I've never been on Tumblr. My experience with "feels" is strictly from LJ. Perhaps is just more prevalent on Tumblr.

Language changes and evolves. There are Victorians I am sure who'd think a bunch of us (particularly those who use USian English) to have utterly bastardized the language; if y'know they were sentient zombies (being all dead).

Fannish speak and net speak (which now has sub dialects apparently; twitter speak, Tumblr speak etc...) are in a way branches off English (and the other mother tongues of various fans with their own idiosyncrasies). And has whomever is complaining not noticed that 'feels' and similar are also part of a VISUAL language?

I had no idea at all that there was a 'Speak The Queen's English' going on about feels, or 'I can't' or 'THIS' said in all caps that means so much more than in general use of a thing as in this or that.

But then again... my religion is Batman. WTH do I know.

I’ve been thinking lately about tumblr, and how its mostly-female users appeal to over-the-top emotional language (e.g., my feels, i can’t, cries, ARGH, and variants thereof.)

And it’s interesting, because most of us exist in societies that see excessive emotion as worthy of ridicule, an indication of irrationality, and “hysteric.” Feelings have become feminized, and what is feminine is deviant, Other, lesser. Pathos used to be a valid argumentative strategy—now, an argument rooted in emotion isn’t just bad, it’s invalid. And what is invalid can be dismissed without thought. (It’s unworthy of thought.)

But on tumblr, emotion is linked to power. Explicitly so. Feels can kill, feels can hurt, feels drive the creation of graphics/meta/fic and fierce battles over canonicity or interpretations. Feels are the currency with which you buy your right to fannishness.

Our reaction to a society that dismisses emotion as baseless is to crank that shit up to eleven and make it the gate through which you must pass to enter the community.

we’ve weaponized emotion.

how cool is that?"
no listen this is actually really amazing because this is a real thing. i think this counts as a pidgin language. a pidgin language is basically a changed, simplified version of a language. you can change the spellings of words, pronunciation, grammar rules, or even make up new words. i think. i’d have to research it a bit more to be sure but i’m 90% sure this is right. if its not a pidgin language, then its a lingua franca but thats more used for trade and stuff like that. but still a new language. so yes, we’ve created our own language. we’ve changed the whole sentence structure. we can trail off sentences, say things like “i just cant”, and use words like ship, OTP, fic, fandom, feels, and ship names and everyone will understand what you’re saying. the part that i love most is how people go “OMGH IM CRIIY NIG SOIOO HARD” and understand each other. for example “IM LIUA GHMNIG”. that one was incredibly easy, but if you knew that said “I’m laughing”, congratulations. You speak a pidgin language. we can even say stuff like “Does anyone know of a Johnlock fic, at least 20k words, not a WIP, with no OCs, and is Post-Reichenbach? Or just a Destiel PWP would be great.” To someone not on tumblr, that wouldn’t make any sense. but you understood, didn’t you? One characteristic of a pidgin language is that you have to learn it like a second language. Another characteristic is that it is frequently changing. tumblr goes through many trends with how we talk. if i remember correctly, when i first made an account about two years ago, talking like this wasn’t quite as common. also, that thing of suddenly capitalizing your sentence is fairly recent. you know, when people go “the new epISODE IS TOMORROW”. Like one of the people up there said, all of this is awesome because how else do you easily show emotion and tone over the internet? we’ve even made a whole sense of humour that most people here share in. There’s so much more that I could talk about with this, but i’m tired and i may be entirely wrong about everything. but yes. people on the fandom side of tumblr who speak like this are speaking a new language
Nah, it's not actually a pidgin because it's not a trade language developed between groups that lack a common language (no matter how many EFL/ESL speakers there are in English language fandom). Tumblrspeak also lacks a bunch of the common grammatical/phonological features of pidgins, but that's less telling than the lack of the required linguistic situation. I'd say it operates more like other subculture slangs, which are also prone to messing with grammar, borrowing words, making up new meanings for existing ones, etc.