I think the most beautiful words are those with no English equivalent. Perhaps it’s the fact we have to conjure them without familiarity that makes them more alluring. More creative. More ephemeral.

IMAHR Saudade (1899), by Almeida Júnior
Saudade (1899), by Almeida Júnior

For me, though, it’s the fact that these words generally point to a moment so potent yet subtle that no single English word can possibly sum it up. It’s the potency and subtlety, of course, that I find beautiful.

Hygge is one word. It’s the art of creating intimacy. So it’s an act as well as a feel – a verb and an adjective. Hygge is also something you consciously strive for…it’s about connecting in a cosy, elegant, unfussy way. It’s about weaving friendship and intimacy with ease.

Mamihlapinatapai (from the language of the people of Tierra del Fuego) is another. It points to a look shared between two people when both are wishing the other would do something neither wants to.

In Thai there is greng-jai — when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a bother for him or her.

I just came across the word saudade. Of Portuguese origin, in a whole bunch of clumsy English words, saudade means “the love that remains” after someone is gone. It’s the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, wellbeing, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It describes a deep nostalgic longing.

But it goes deeper – implicit in the emotion is the fact it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing will never return. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (your children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (places, things you used to do in childhood) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence. It can also describe a love for something that you know will never exist.

Saudade: It brings sad and happy feelings all at once; sadness from missing something loved and happiness for having experienced the love.

I can conjure this feeling. This kind of love is so potent and melancholy that it lingers. It’s a love that lunges forward in anticipation, but with nothing to meet it, it can only keep reaching out further. This brings a doubling of emotion. Plus a sense of aloneness out there in the ether, forever reaching for love. I’ve felt this love for my dead grandfather. I’ve felt this love for the child I can’t have. I feel it for the little girl I once was.

You?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • lisa

    My heart raced, lump in my throat. Conjures up those deep, generally untapped memories
    Lovely, thanks

    • Ian

      Well said, Lisa. It’s exactly how I felt reading Sarah’s words.

  • Chrissie

    How divine!

  • Ellie

    This is exactly what I needed I read this morning. Beautiful. Thank you!

  • Sharon

    Gosh, I feel saudade all the time! I feel this way when I look at photos of travelling I’ve done, and memories of stages of my life I’ve enjoyed that I feel have passed and will never be re-lived.
    A word I discovered while recently visiting Amsterdam (also used by Dutch speakers in Belgium) is gezellig. There is no direct translation but it means cosy, familiar, friendly – particularly in reference to an atmosphere of a place. But it’s more than just a word, it’s about a feeling or the feeling that it evokes. My Dutch friends always tend to use the word in this way – to describe how they are feeling when they encounter a place or experience that is ‘gezeellig’. It’s become one of my favourite foreign words.

  • Dolly Levi

    My Aunties say that to me, they live in Portugal and I here, in Oz. The Portuguese language is very beautiful but, the pronunciation is almost impossible. As a side note, visit Portugal Sarah, eat the food, you’ll love it!

    • Isabel Paiva

      The pronunciation has some tricks but with some effort anyone can handle it 😀 indeed the portuguese form brazil is more soft rather the portuguese from Portugal…

  • Selma

    Oh, I’m Brazilian! And I can say you totally understood the meaning of saudade and even took it to another poetic level! So nice to see someone admiring portuguese! 🙂

  • Sheralee Angel

    Such divine timing, thank you for these profound words Sarah xx

  • trish

    Cesaria Evora’s song, Sodade, immediately filled my head when I saw your post’s title today … a beautiful song that perfectly captures the feeling … Thank you … 🙂

    • Apparently there are a lot of songs about saudade, trying to capture it in melancholy sound.

    • Ms Jane

      And yes you can feel it in Cesaria’s voice. Beautiful x

  • Dianne

    Such an eloquent post thanks Sarah. I feel saudade when I think of my marriage breakup. I know I had to in the end leave the marriage, and from that we have all grown and benefited however, I know the loss of certain things in not being a family. In the end, gratitude for what I do have and the English Language! x

    • sometimes I wonder if that particular feeling is more of sadness and happy farewell of a part of ourselves?

      • Dianne

        Actually yes, on reflection it is. When I read your post it was the day I had been back to the family suburb and I had just smelt the first season’s gardenia – we had a beautiful garden. I felt the sadness and happiness all at once in that scent. x

  • Patricia

    I said a few weeks back I couldn’t be bothered with your blog anymore.
    But I have an admission to make. I have been popping back to take a peak as you bring up topics I sometimes connect with.
    I have been reading your for blog for many years. I am not young I am 68. But out of any post you have ever written this is so incredibly relevant to me. I cannot express to you how I understand the very meaning of what you are saying. I live and feel those things also that you wrote and it is always there in the very core of me it always has been. Kindred Spirit.

  • Daniel L

    Beautiful post… Thank you .

  • Oh! Beautiful. So many people close to me have lost loved ones this year. I will have to share this with them because saudade exactly explains everything I feel when I think about my brother who I lost 15 years ago, and others I loved who’ve been taken before their time x

  • Fiona

    I just love that word – suadada – and realise I feel that, *really* feel that very often.

    I often recall the German word ‘Gemütlichkeit’. It doesn’t have an exact English equivalent. Wiki describes it as ” a situation that induces a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and unhurry”. I sometimes wish I could use it in conversation as it can just encapsulate a time and place so well.

  • Neat

    Thank you ….simply beautiful.
    Saudade is a word I definitely needed to know, perfectly describes recent feelings that seem so hard to describe – makes me want to cry and smile at the same time.

    Loving it even more as I’ve just this week booked at holiday to Portugal.

  • Jane Hayes

    Sarah that is a beautiful post.

  • Danielle

    Isn’t it just amazing how one word can bring about so much in us, such individual experiences and emotions and yet collectively we all connect through it. What an amazing discovery.

  • ayesha

    Sarah, I’m sorry to hear about the child you can’t have. your reserves of love, wisdom and passion are so very clear to me and I know you will not let them go to waste.

  • Paul

    Yes that’s it, saudade – thank you Sarah. So so sad yet beautiful. This word has thrown its arms around the jumbled emptiness of lost love & hope, the beauty, pain and grief and given it form. I cannot say I feel your loss as that is uniquely yours but I feel your feeling of loss if that makes sense. Being wounded enables wisdom by silencing the ego.

  • Mumorable Moments

    I love this word, thank you for sharing. It covers such emotion in one simple word.

  • Natty

    Hi Sarah, i’m reading you from Romania! We have the word “dor” which is the same as saudade, actually Romanian and Portugese are related languages.
    As i learned English, as a child, this was the word that could never be translated, it means missing, longing, feeling emptiness and so much more…
    I love your post

  • Venusian*Glow

    A Brazilian friend of mine told me that Saudade simply means Sehensucht, that would be translated a longing.

  • I love it when my husband uses this word or our family in Brazil. ‘Saudades’ is something to celebrate as well, it means we are alive to feel. We are truly blessed. Beautiful post

    • Helenice

      True, this word remind we are emotional being, not only we are hurt by missing someone.

  • David

    I always loved the Japanese phrase used to describe mild depression. “Kokora no kaze” can be translated as “when your soul catches a cold”. Beautiful. The flipside (isn’t there with everything?) is that it was coined by the pharma industry to flog antidepressants in a country that had never openly discussed depression. The word for depression – “utsubyo” – only refers to major depression and is never or seldom used outside the medical fraternity. In English, of course, the word “depression” can be used to mean everything from suicidal thoughts to your footy team losing. At any rate, “kokora no kaze” remains a lovely turn of phrase and it comes with the added benefit of having an interesting cultural backstory.

  • Megswalms

    I forget sometimes that you were a journalist (and hence word nerd) before all this IQS journey began. I love your posts about words. More please!

  • Deirdre

    beautiful.

  • amyjayess

    You have to check out this beautiful song by Melbourne band Tin Pan Orange on the word…https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG-eqBFwga8

  • Jo

    Love this word – thank you Sarah

  • Lisa

    My brother, who killed himself three years ago. He was a wonderful person, too sensitive and caring for this world. We were close, I miss him. I suspect people susceptible to saudade perhaps also are susceptible to living in the past – and depression.

  • Forever reaching for love. Yes. But for a love you know will never come back to you. A love so happy to be found and yet when lost, remains forever in your heart and will always bring joy. Saudade, it is indeed a beautiful word.

  • Mona B.

    Sarah, if you haven’t already, listen to Cesaria Evora’s beautiful song, Sodade (a variation on the spelling). She manages to capture all that you talk about in your post (you won’t even need a translation).

  • A beautiful, emotive post that touched me deeply, thank you Sarah.

  • Isabel Paiva

    Like many other days, today i feel blessed, cause i follow your blog for so long, from Portuguese Lands 😉 ehehe and my eyes just poped out when i saw the word SAUDADE! Thanks for sharing this wonderful word and also spread it around here 🙂
    Everyone should take a look at this… and why not stop here in a near future:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESpeo3VTvyc

    Greetings from Portugal 😀

  • Claudia

    you got it right Sarah. Beautiful description. My blog’s name is Sabor Saudade… it sounded just perfect for an expat’s food blog

  • Cherie

    My husband got the word saudade tattooed on him just prior to us separating and it brings tears to my eyes every time I see it or hear it spoken. I think sometimes the universe gives us these gifts of words which encompass more than we can express in using our normal range of vocabulary.

  • Helenice

    Saudade hurts but it is a cultural manner as well, this word also show considering others, we are very demonstrative here in Brazil.

  • Neide Torres

    I speak Portuguese and one of the most difficult things is to explain is the meaning of “saudade” to my American husband or English speaking people in general. Usually I just say things like: ” I have/feel ‘saudade’ “of that something or someone, or a time in my life, in a way of trying to explain myself. But hey, he is my husband and has learned to understand me- LOL. Sometimes I just don’t translate words to the English equivalent, as he also speaks some Spanish and we find words that have similar meaning in both Portuguese and Spanish. But to explain “saudade” in its whole meaning, is still a challenge because it goes beyond just “missing” or ” longing” for someone or something. But you nailed it, saudade is exactly what you understood and explained in your words! Very well done. “Saudade” is poetic in its meaning because is an amalgam of so many good and sad feelings at the same time, really thankfull there is such a word to explain all this, sorry for not finding one English equivalent that is enough… But that is the beauty of how one Language can enrich another. So happy you got it!

  • Rui

    There is a Portuguese song that express that felling

    (Setima legião – por quem não esqueci) translated

    The same voice of ever
    That calls by me
    So i can remember
    The night has a end

    I still search
    By those who i had not forgotten
    In name of a dream
    In name of you

    I seek at night
    By a sign of you
    I wait at night
    By those who i had not forgotten

    I ask at night
    A signal of you
    By those who i had not forgotten

    By lost signals
    I wait in vain
    By ancient times
    By a song

    I still search
    By those who i had not forgotten
    By those who can´t come
    By those who i lost

  • Mintas Lanxor

    It seems to me that any Portuguese or Brazilian person you ask has different but overlapping definitions of “saudade”. I agree with some of the persons interviewed that the uniqueness of “saudade” may have been invented by the Portuguese-speaking people as a myth to make themselves look emotionally unique in their own eyes. One would have to know many languages to categorically claim that they don’t have corresponding equivalents. Even the word itself (which is a general linguistic phenomenon in all languages) means different things in different contexts. It can be nostalgia for your home country, for things that used to be, a melancholy outlook on life as a mild sort of depression (the tragic sense of life), longing for things, locations, or people you’ll never have access to, etc. It never combines all of those things in the same context. Maybe one can say that this words covers many emotions that other languages differentiate with separate words, but even that is a false generalization since Portuguese has synonyms for saudade as melancholy, sadness, longing, the blues, nostalgia, etc.

    In my case, I tend to feel saudade or nostalgia for Brazil even though I’ve never been there. This emotion is primarily due to my extensive listening of Musica Popular Brasileira, which I find to be a unique expression of emotion through a fusion of melodic and rhythmic complexity not usually found elsewhere in popular music.

  • Thad Lipscomb

    This is beautiful. Such a powerful word that can encompass all the emotions of love, joy, sadness, happiness, longing. It seems to be something right out of Hollywood, but it’s something that I’ve been living with for years…two people passionately in love, but went their separate ways. The only thing that remains is a love that is only kept alive by it’s memories, never to be spoken aloud, ignored and alone.

  • I think what I once felt is more like wanting something I can never have.
    Yet, still be grateful I have the chance to know him, and fall for him.
    Happy and sad at the same time.

    ;D