The term nostalgia describes a yearning for the past, often in idealized form.[1] The word is a learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning "returning home", a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning "pain, ache". It was described as a medical condition, a form of melancholy, in the Early Modern period, and became an important trope in Romanticism.[1]

Nostalgia, in its most common form, was responsible for the old front desk of The Beverly Hills Hotel (from 1942 to 1979) being made into a bar.

In common, less clinical usage, nostalgia sometimes includes a general interest in past eras and their personalities and events, especially the "good old days" of a few generations back recast in an idyllic light, such as the Belle Époque, Merry England, Neo-Victorian aesthetics, the US "Antebellum" Old South, etc. Sometimes it is brought on by a sudden image, or remembrance of something from one's childhood.


As a medical condition

The term was coined in 1688 by Johannes Hofer (1669–1752) in his Basel dissertation. Hofer introduced nostalgia or mal du pays "homesickness" for the condition also known as mal du Suisse "Swiss illness" or Schweizerheimweh "Swiss homesickness", because of its frequent occurrence in Swiss mercenaries who in the plains of lowlands of France or Italy were pining for their native mountain landscapes. English homesickness is a loan translation of nostalgia. Allegedly, the first use of the word in a publication was in Sir Joseph Banks' journal of the first voyage of Captain Cook in the Pacific, when, near Java, he stated that the sailors "were now pretty far gone with the longing for home which the physicians have gone so far as to esteem a discease under the name of Nostalgia."[2]

Cases resulting in death were known and soldiers were sometimes successfully treated by being discharged and sent home. Receiving a diagnosis was, however, generally regarded as an insult. In 1787 Robert Hamilton (1749-1830) described a case of a soldier suffering from nostalgia, who received sensitive and successful treatment:

"In the year 1781, while I lay in barracks at Tin mouth in the north of England, a recruit who had lately joined the regiment,...was returned in sick list, with a message from his captain, requesting I would take him into the hospital. He had only been a few months a soldier; was young, handsome, and well-made for the service; but a melancholy hung over his countenance, and wanness preyed on his cheeks. He complained of a universal weakness, but no fixed pain; a noise in his ears, and giddiness of his head....As there were little obvious symptoms of fever, I did not well know what to make of the case...Some weeks passed with little alteration...excepting that he was evidently become more meager. He scarcely took any nourishment...became indolent...He was put on a course of strengthening medicines; wine was allowed him. All proved ineffectual. He had now been in the hospital three months, and was quite emaciated, and like one in the last stage of consumption... On making my morning visit, and inquiring, as usual, of his rest at the nurse, she happened to mention the strong notions he had got in his head, she said, of home, and of his friends. What he was able to speak was constantly on this topic. This I had never heard of before...He had talked in the same style, it seems, less or more, ever since he came into the hospital. I went immediately up to him, and introduced the subject; and from the alacrity with which he resumed it.. I found it a theme which much affected him. He asked me, with earnestness, if I would let him go home. I pointed out to him how unfit he was, from his weakness to undertake such a journey [he was a Welchman] till once he was better; but promised him, assuredly, without farther hesitation, that as soon as he was able he should have six weeks to go home. He revived at the very thought of it... His appetite soon mended; and I saw in less than a week, evident signs of recovery."

By the 1850s nostalgia was losing its status as a particular disease and coming to be seen rather as a symptom or stage of a pathological process. It was considered as a form of melancholia and a predisposing condition among suicides. Nostalgia was, however, still diagnosed among soldiers as late as the American Civil War.[citation needed] By the 1870s interest in nostalgia as a medical category had all but vanished. Nostalgia was still being recognized in both the First and Second World Wars, especially by the American armed forces. Great lengths were taken to study and understand the condition to stem the tide of troops leaving the front in droves (see the BBC documentary Century of the Self).

As a description

Nostalgia is often triggered by something reminding the individual of an event or item from their past. The resulting emotion can vary from happiness to sorrow. The term of "feeling nostalgic" is more commonly used to describe pleasurable emotions associated with and/or a longing to go back to a particular period of time.


Swiss nostalgia was linked to the singing of Kuhreihen, which were forbidden to Swiss mercenaries because they led to nostalgia to the point of desertion, illness or death. The 1767 Dictionnaire de Musique by Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that Swiss mercenaries were threatened with severe punishment to prevent them from singing their Swiss songs. It became somewhat of a topos in Romantic literature, and figures in the poem Der Schweizer by Achim von Arnim (1805) and in Clemens Brentano's Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1809) as well as in the opera Le Chalet by Adolphe Charles Adam (1834) which was performed for Queen Victoria under the title The Swiss Cottage. The Romantic connection of nostalgia, the Kuhreihen and the Swiss Alps was a significant factor in the enthusiasm for Switzerland, the development of early tourism in Switzerland and Alpinism that took hold of the European cultural elite in the 19th century. German Romanticism coined an opposite to Heimweh, Fernweh "far-sickness", "longing to be far away", like wanderlust expressing the Romantic desire to travel and explore.

See also


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  • nostalgia — os*tal gi*a, n. [NL., fr. Gr. ? a return home + ? pain.] 1. (Med.) Homesickness; esp., a severe and sometimes fatal form of melancholia, due to homesickness. [1913 Webster] 2. A sentimental yearning to return to an earlier time remembered as… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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  • Nostalgia — Nostalgia, griech., das Heimweh …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • nostalgia — /nostal dʒia/ s.f. [comp. del gr. nóstos ritorno e algia ]. [stato d animo consistente nel rimpiangere ciò che è trascorso o è lontano: avere n. di casa, dei tempi passati ] ▶◀ rimpianto, Ⓣ (psicol.) nostomania. ‖ malinconia …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • nostalgia — (n.) 1770, severe homesickness (considered as a disease), Modern Latin (Cf. Fr. nostalgie, 1802), coined 1668 by Johannes Hofer, as a rendering of Ger. heimweh, from Gk. algos pain, grief, distress (see ALGIA (Cf. algia)) + nostos homecoming,… …   Etymology dictionary

  • NOSTALGIA — (от греч. nostor возвращение на родину и algos боль), ностальгия, тоска по родине. Проявляющееся у многих людей в первые моменты жизни в новой непривычной обстановке, на новом месте, среди чужих, это чувство у примитивных или психически… …   Большая медицинская энциклопедия

  • nostalgia — s. f. 1. Tristeza profunda causada por saudades do afastamento da pátria ou da terra natal. 2. Estado melancólico causado pela falta de algo.   ‣ Etimologia: francês nostalgie …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • nostalgia — [n] pleasant remembrances fond memories*, hearts and flowers*, homesickness, longing, pining, reminiscence, remorse, schmaltz*, sentimentality, tear jerker*, wistfulness, yearning; concepts 20,410 …   New thesaurus

  • nostalgia — (Del gr. νόστος, regreso, y algia). 1. f. Pena de verse ausente de la patria o de los deudos o amigos. 2. Tristeza melancólica originada por el recuerdo de una dicha perdida …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • nostalgia — ► NOUN ▪ sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past. DERIVATIVES nostalgic adjective nostalgically adverb. ORIGIN originally in the sense «acute homesickness»: from Latin, from Greek nostos return home + algos pain …   English terms dictionary

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