8.5 Editor's Pick
June 21, 2021

This Untranslatable Word Teaches us Everything about Life.

As a language lover and teacher, I have always been fascinated by words that have no direct equivalents in other languages.

I guess some words have such deep meaning that they are just beyond translation.

For those who aren’t familiar with me, I come from a Portuguese background. In my language, we have a key word that describes a strong emotional state many of us feel on several occasions throughout our lives.

Countless writers and articles have tried to capture its essence, but none have quite really “hit the nail on the head”:


If you have a sit-down with a Portuguese friend, they will more than gladly try to explain this word to you. I’m going to do my best in written words.

Perhaps the closest and most accurate definition I found online was this one:

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” ~ A. F. G. Bell, In Portugal of 1912

Saudade. Seven letters. Two syllables. An ocean’s worth of meaning.

Saudade is a deep emotional state, a sense of incompleteness. No; “longing,” “yearning,” or “nostalgia” do not do this word justice.

Saudade is the harsh presence of absence. Saudade is a sense of incompleteness.

You feel saudade(s) (it is also used in its plural form in Portuguese) for something you know will most likely never happen again. Or for a relationship that was never meant to be. For a lost loved one. For a place you hold close in your heart. For people you haven’t seen in ages.

Saudade is bittersweet. It can torture you for years upon years, and yet, there is beauty in sadness. Because really, you only feel saudades for things that felt worthy or valuable to you at the time.

It is a bittersweet mixture of love and pain.

Saudade pervades the whole of Portuguese literature and music (fado). Perhaps the whole of the Portuguese national identity can be based on this word, and yet it is a universal feeling.

Saudade is the love that remains. I feel saudades for many things. For my childhood. For so many friends I haven’t seen due to the pandemic. For the cities I have lived in. For the words I left unsaid in the past. For broken relationships. For my dead grandfather.

Saudade is the emptiness that is left when something that should be there—isn’t. It can be felt temporarily…heck it can be felt permanently.

But saudade is ironically f*cking beautiful. Saudade is what life is all about: having moments so strong, so powerful, so beautiful that they stick with us for a lifetime. Remembering people who touched us so deeply that life seems futile when they’re gone. Holding onto memories from a place that meant so much to us in the past that we can almost smell and taste them in this moment today.

It stings and it lingers and it sometimes feels suffocating. But a life without saudade would be meaningless. Empty. Vacant.

In more ways than one, I Am Saudade.

Maybe you are too.


Read 30 Comments and Reply

Read 30 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Nicole Baptista  |  Contribution: 73,360

author: Nicole Baptista

Image: Author's Own

Editor: Lisa Erickson