The untranslatable ache of saudade

The untranslatable ache of saudadeMy friend Heather, a former Missionary Kid* (who I had the good fortune to meet at an FIGT conference a few years back), recently sent me a link to this nicely written blog post on Communicating Across Boundaries about the Portuguese word saudade. I’ve come across this word before, and I gather it’s one of those not-quite-translatable words that has no equivalent in English. It’s kind of a feeling of yearning tinged with nostalgia and a dash of homesickness, often for someone or something one might never see again.

Saudade has a spiritual connection to words in other languages, both in meaning and untranslatableness. In Spanish there is extrañar, in German there is Sehnsucht, in Hebrew there is ergah, and in Korean there is keurium. Russians have the word toska, which is poetically sort-of-translated by Vladmir Nabakov:

“No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

Do we have a single word in English that captures the heart and soul of this magnificent emotion? I ask because I’m intrigued by the closing paragraph of the post:

“It’s funny how the simple act of discovering a word that gives meaning to those feelings can validate and heal. That is what I believe “Saudade” can do for the third culture kid.”

Comments?

* Not Military Kid, as I previously wrote. (Sorry, Heather!)

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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