Lexicon of Loneliness

Authors: Hope Linge, Elise Tarbi and Maija Reblin

Posted: August 2022

Context/ Purpose     

In a society suffering from a loneliness epidemic, human connections can be rare and special things (Murthy, 2020). Loneliness, though an emotional feeling, can have detrimental impacts on mental and physical health (Badal, 2021). Among older and seriously ill individuals, these effects are magnified, and loneliness has been identified as a significant risk factor for serious illnesses such as heart disease, lung disease, obesity, depression, and anxiety, as well as increased mortality rates (Ong, 2016; Yangus, 2018). Being able to identify expressions of loneliness in serious illness conversations could allow clinicians to better recognize loneliness in patients and intervene to prevent its harmful effects. We sought to create a corpus of loneliness and connection words that can provide a way of identifying and quantifying loneliness using natural language processing (NLP), allowing us to calculate the frequency and proportion of loneliness in conversation.


We started by reading pertinent literature on loneliness in health care settings (meta-analyses and qualitative meta-syntheses on loneliness, as well as existing measurement tools), and by pulling keywords from these articles, we created a preliminary list of 329 words and phrases relevant to loneliness and human connection (Bolmsjö, 2019; Donovan, 2020; Edberg, 2019; Ettema, 2019; Guntuku, 2019; Halam, 2022; Hipson, 2021; Holt-Lunstad, 2015; Holt-Lunstad, 2021; Karhe, 2015; Kitzmüller, 2018; Kotwal, 2021; Mansfield, 2021; Ong, 2016; Reinhardt, 2021; Rokach, 1988; Sjöberg, 2018; Vedder, 2022; Yanguas, 2018). We included a list of relationship terms from Badal and colleagues (2021). All of these words were focused around our central definition of loneliness, that it “is a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship that occurs when there is a mismatch between the quantity and quality of social relationships that a person has, and those that person wants” (Reinhardt, 2021). Then, using Word Net, a lexical dictionary of the English language, and thesaurus.com, an online reference work for finding synonyms, we generated the synonyms and antonyms of each word. After adding these related words, our list consisted of 1,055 words and phrases. We then organized this list by grouping words and phrases with the same stem if the stem had an important and relevant meaning (e.g., “connected,” “disconnected,” and “unconnected” were all grouped under the stem “connect”), leaving us with a list of 882 unique stems.

After refining the dictionary, three of the lab members most involved in generating the word list voted on whether each of the 882 words and phrases could be indicative of loneliness or human connection in a clinical conversation using a scale of 0 to 2 (zero being a word or phrase not used to express loneliness or connection, two being a word or phrase that would be used to express loneliness or connection, and one indicating uncertainty). This selection measure was modeled after the rating scale used by Gramling and colleagues in their 2021 uncertainty study. We kept 289 words and phrases whose mode was 2; we excluded 360 words and phrases whose mode was 0. Through small group discussion of the remaining terms, lab members excluded an additional 43 words. The remaining 188 words were brought to a larger group of lab members who voted either yes (this word is an expression of loneliness and/or connection) or no (this word is not an expression of loneliness and/or connection). After this second round of voting, we kept 53 words and phrases that had a majority of yes and excluded 81 words and phrases that had a majority of no. The remaining 49 words that did not reach a majority were brought to a lab meeting where a large group met to adjudicate their relevance. Throughout this meeting, 21 words and phrases were kept and 32 were excluded (4 words had different variations voted on separately due to group disagreement, causing the number of total words to increase from 49 to 53). In summary, out of the preliminary list of 882 words and phrases, 373 were kept in the final lexicon.

Further Considerations

            While the words and phrases in this lexicon are important indicators as to how loneliness and human connection manifest in clinical conversation, there are other conversational patterns indicative of loneliness that may be worth considering. For instance, how frequently people use plural versus singular pronouns (e.g., “we” versus “I”) (Badal, 2021), if they predominantly talk in the past, present, or future tense, and the tone and proportion of negativity present (Hipson, 2021) (e.g., using phrases like “cannot,” “do not,” “am not,” or “will not”). Additionally, who the speaker is (patient, clinician, or family member), how the transitions between speakers are handled, and the patient’s sentence syntax (complexity, mirroring patterns, and response length) (Badal, 2021) are other potential speech patterns warranting study.

            In the future, this dictionary could be combined with gold standard human-annotated loneliness conversations to compare performance. Furthermore, it could be used to compare the frequency of the words in the loneliness lexicon and the trajectory of loneliness within the conversations with other conversational features or self-report loneliness measures. This would allow us to test and improve the library, on the path to building interventions to mitigate the impact of loneliness in the seriously ill population. 

Word List

Strong subgroup: The strong subgroup consists of the unanimously selected words indicative of loneliness and/or connection in the first round of voting. These words are strong indicators of loneliness and/or connection in conversational settings:

Associate (associated, disassociated)AuntBelong (belonging)Betrayed
BleakBrother (stepbrother, brother-in-law)Brushed asideBrushed off
BuddyBy my sideBy myselfCare (careful, careless, uncared for)
Cast awayCatCherishedChild (stepchild, grandchild)
CohortCold-shoulderCollaborate (collaborator)Colleague
CommunityCompanion (companionship)CompanyCompassionate
ComradeConfidanteConfide inCorrespondence
Count onCousinCrying outCuddling
DadDaughter (granddaughter, stepdaughter, goddaughter, daughter-in-law)DejectedDemoralized
Desolate (desolation)DisownedDisrespectedDog
Don’t have someoneDrifted apartEmbrace (embraced)Estrange (estranged)
FamilyFather (father-in-law)FoeFolk
Friend (girlfriend, boyfriend, friendly, unfriendly, friends, friendship)Get togetherGet withGod
Has my backHeard fromHugHusband
IgnoredIn the knowIn touchInseparable
IntimacyInvitedJesusKept apart
Kept in the darkKid (stepkid, grandkid)KissLean on
Left behindLeft high and dryLeft outListened to
Lone (lonely, alone, lonesome)LostLove (loved, truelove, unloved)MA
Missing outMomMother (mother-in-law)Neglect (neglected)
NeighborNephewNieceNo one
NobodyNobody to keep me companyNot a part of somethingNot included
Not listened toOn my ownOstracizedOT
Out of placePalParentParticipation
PartnerRelativeRely onRespected
RidiculedRoommateScornedShare (shared, unshared)
Shun (shunned)Shut outSibling (stepsibling)Sidekick
Sister (stepsister, sister-in-law)SolitarySolitudeSon (stepson, godson, grandson, son-in-law)
SpouseSupport (supporter, unsupported)TeacherTeam (teammate)
There for meTogether (togetherness)Touch base withUnaccompanied
UncaringUncleUnderstood (misunderstood)Unite (united, reunite, disunite, disunited)
With meWith othersWithdrawn 

All other terms: These terms did not meet criteria for being strong indicators of loneliness or connection:

AbsenceAdriftAffiliatedAt home
Come overComplementedDegradingDM
EmailMailMeet (meeting, meetup)Powerless
Brought togetherCome togetherCommunalCooperation (cooperative)
FaithfulGo awayHeartacheHold hands
HouseholdIdentify withIn syncJust want someone
Lost identityLoyaltyMourningMutual
NegligentNot allowedNursePerson
PetProfessorPTReach out
Soul (soulmate)Split upTrustUnapproachable
Union (reunion)UnityUnsociableWedding
AgonyApartConnect (disconnected, unconnected, connected)Contact (contacts)
CoupleDefenselessDisgracedEngaged (engagement, disengage, disengaged)
Fit inGoing awayGoing to leaveInvisible
Involve (involved, uninvolved)IsolatedJust meRecognized
RejectedSingled outThoughtful (unthoughtful, thoughtless)Turn to
Barren (barrenness)ChasmChosenDenied
Depend (dependable, dependent)DesertedDespisedDiscouraged
DitchedDivisionEmptyExclude (excluded)
ExposedFall apartFamiliar (unfamiliar)Forget (forgotten)
ForsakeForsakenFullnessGather (gathering)
Give upGuarded (unguarded)HiddenHopelessness
Known (not known, unknown)MaroonedNot good enoughNot moving
Overlook (overlooked)PeerlessRememberedScattered
SecludeSeparate (separated)Set apartSheltered
AssistanceAttention (attentive)Home (homelessness)Social (socializing, antisocial)
Conflict (conflicting)DespondencyFellow (fellowship)Guy
HoedownHostile (hostility)KinLeft being
Run byShamedShindigSomebody
SomeoneWelcome (unwelcome)EncouragementListening
BlackballBlacklistedBlocked outCut off
BannedSidelinedExclusiveCut out
MinglingDetachedPart ofSole (solely)
OutsiderCelebrate (celebration)ChatJilted
BarredHelp (helper, helpful, helpless, unhelpful)ReconciliationEncounter
NetworkAccepted (unaccepted)BlockedDisheartened
SeverSingleCheat onApathy
FavorInattentiveAshamedHeard (unheard)
See (unseen)Popular (unpopular)Worth (unworthy, worthless)Divide
DriftingNothing (nothingness)On their ownRudderless
Purpose (unpurposed, purposeless)Satisfied (dissatisfied, unsatisfied)VulnerableAnxious
PartyShut downMyselfStranger
RelatePassed byDepressedBreak up
MockedMistrustUnnoticedTalk with
AmongTalk toAssemblyFestivity
DefeatedNonexistenceDespairTurned down

Works Cited

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Haslam, S. A., et al. (2022). Social identity makes group-based social connection possible: Implications for loneliness and mental health. Current Opinion in Psychology43, 161-165.

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