A woman sitting on a chair at a table

Saudade reflects a mixture of feelings and emotions without translation into other languages.

In Portugal, saudade is lived, sung, felt, dramatized, written about and it’s a word, we say around here, that is “only” Portuguese.

This is, at least, a discussion that is very much our own.

The word “saudade” is, according to the Portuguese themselves, untranslatable. In other words, there is no word in other languages that can mean saudade in a literal translation.

It is known, according to a study published on the BBC, that there are other words in other languages that are also untranslatable and, in this research, the word “saudade” is on the list of untranslatable words.

These are words that designate emotions or attitudes – here we could also mention the very Portuguese “desenrascanço” – linked to the lives, experiences and history of various countries and their populations, which cannot be transposed into other languages with the faithful meaning they have.

Before we move on to the study in question, let’s see what the word saudade means and where it comes from.

According to Ciberdúvidas do português, “saudade describes the mixture of feelings of loss, lack, distance and love. The word comes from the Latin “solitatem” (solitude), passing through the Galician-Portuguese “soidade”, which gave rise to the archaic forms “soidade” and “soudade”, which under the influence of “saúde” and “saudar” gave rise to the current word.”

As there is the possibility of Arabic influence on the word “saudade”, the same source states: “(…) it should be noted that negro, in classical Arabic, is “sawād”, which corresponds, among other names, to “suwayda” “black mood, hypochondria, melancholy”, a word that may have some phonic similarity to the Galician-Portuguese form soidade.” However, it is emphasized that this thesis requires careful philological studies and that, for this reason, the possibility of the influence of this language in the construction of the word remains to be proven or confirmed.

Then there are those who argue that “saudade” entered our vocabulary with greater force and depth with the Discoveries, for the obvious reason that those who boarded the ships would be away for many months or years, with no news, or might not even return. Here, “solitude”, which is at the root of the word, gains expression because those who set sail experienced intense deprivation and distance from their land and family. It was a feeling that remained in Portuguese hearts for decades, since Portugal is a country of emigration. France, Germany, Luxembourg, Brazil, the United States, Canada and Venezuela were some of the destinations chosen by thousands of Portuguese in search of a better life. The pain and suffering of distance, deprivation and loneliness were and are always there.

This exclusivity that we claim for nostalgia lies in a set of feelings and emotions that are at the heart of its meaning: melancholy for the distance, nostalgia for the past, wishing you could be what you weren’t, wanting to be where you can’t be, having dreams that may never happen, pain and suffering.

We miss people, situations, countries, tastes and smells. Fado – the music of destiny – sings of longing for the past (what was and no longer is), but it also mourns the absences and distances of the present and those of the future, the unavoidable destiny. In “The Message”, Fernando Pessoa goes through the theme of “longing for the future”, that feeling that “the past is everything I didn’t manage to be”, somehow a desire to be in the future because it seems to us that this future could be better than the present, or longing for what never existed.

Philosophical? In principle, yes.

Melancholic? Certainly.

Saudade is a mixture of emotions, feelings, uncertainties and desires that we may not be able to separate from each other and which, blended into a single word, define this “exclusive” Portuguese feeling: saudade.

In this study, “saudade” is part of a group of words that are untranslatable and appears with this definition:

“A melancholy longing or nostalgia for a person, place, or thing that is distant, either spatially or in time – a vague, dreamlike melancholy for phenomena that may not even exist.”

Saudade hurts, is lived and continues to be sung, in Portuguese.