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?

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