What is “Selcouth”?

Image result for selcouth definition
It’s hard to be different. For as long as I can remember, I’d wake up every day asking myself why I couldn’t just blend in, wishing I could fit in. I would think about the concept of “normal”; what it is, why it matters, who gets to define it. This is a concept I’ve struggled with my whole life, and still haunts me today.

But what is normal, exactly? Throughout the years, I learned that in order for something to be “normal”, it needs to conform to some kind of standard. We say it’s normal because it’s what we expect, what we’re used to, whatever is typical or average. Here’s two ways to measure “normal”:

First, the “average human experience“, which is if it’s normal compared to a measurable, scientific standard — on average do most people feel this way, am I an outlier, am I close to the norm but still a bit outside it, etc.

Second, the “socially expected behaviors and norms“, which is if it’s normal in the social sense — am I a total weirdo, is there something wrong with me, is something about me socially unacceptable, other people are probably like this but what if they’re not, and so on.

No one wants to be called average. A lot of us have melancholy streaks. We’re lonely and very sensitive, probably more sensitive than everyone else who seem so… normal.


After years of wanting to be called normal, I’ve finally given up on that, and would rather be called “selcouth” instead. This word originates from Old English selcūþseldcūþ (“unusual, unwonted, little known, unfamiliar, novel, rare”), from seld- (“rarely”) + cūþ (“known”); equivalent to seld +‎ couth.

Selcouth, as the picture says, means “rarely known; unusual; uncommon; strange; wonderful”.  I’m not someone who likes to be vulnerable and would rather keep my true self deep inside. For years, I tried to create a mask and hide my true self in order to be perceived as normal. For the most part, it worked. As I sank deeper and deeper into the facade, I began to lose myself. After we moved, I vowed to start fresh, and let out my true side. I drew people in, but I also lost some. It was hard, as I have a hard time with rejection, but in the end it worked out, because I was now surrounded by a group of people who care about the real me.

This word isn’t used much, but it does feature in some written work, such as:

In poetry:
Then forth they rush’d: by Leader’s tide,
A selcouth sight they see—
A hart and hind pace side by side,
As white as snow on Fairnalie.

“Thomas the Rhymer” by Sir Walter Scott
In literature:
A strange day and a selcouth sight for auld een.
“Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland” by Various

Our need to be “normal” makes us attempts to project a “put together” image to others.  We spend significant amounts of energy in “impression management”, or wanting others to think highly of us, to like us.  Being esteemed as a worthwhile person is one reason why reaching out to help others can have such a powerful effect on us: it increases our connections to them, affirms our value as an agent of change, and stimulates a greater sense of belonging.

The intense need to be liked  is perhaps best illustrated when considering its opposite.  Being rejected by or rebuffed by others is, for most of us, quite an unpleasant experience.  Even on a good day, it can lead to a “blue” mood; on a very bad day, it may elicit suicidal feelings in some people.

Sometimes it takes a brave person to say, “Just because all these people act like this is okay doesn’t mean it is.” That person opens the door for others to start questioning and redefining what society says is normal. It might be tough, and you might encounter some resistance — especially from yourself, when you wonder if you deserve to get help. But here’s the good news; you do! You deserve to feel better. All of us do.


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