While I should be reviewing my students’ (apostrophe note for same students: add apostrophe after the “s” to plural words that end in “-s”) work, instead, inspired by yesterday’s foray into German, I have been sucked down an Internet rabbit hole today, following a trail of words that effectively capture a concept or situation or feeling, but for which there are no equivalent words/exact translations in English.***
The Scots, who gave us “spurtle,” also offer:
Tartle: hesitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten that person’s name. Oh, dear lord, yes.
Iktsuarpok (Inuit): When you are expecting someone at your home, and you keep going outside to check to see if the person has arrived.
Boketto: (Japanese) “gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking.”
Chantepleurer: (French) “Singing and crying at the same time.” (Really, could a word be any more French in its essence?)
Voorpret: (Dutch) “Literally ‘pre-fun.’ The sense of enjoyment we feel before an event actually takes place.” You know, sometimes the voorpret turns out to be more fun than the, um, pret.
And then there is this lovely, poignant, haunting Portuguese word: saudade. It’s a word whose meaning is apparently complex and nuanced. On this Portuguese language blog it is described as “the feeling of missing something you love while knowing that its likelihood of return is unknowable and entirely left to fate.”
But it also seems to incorporate longing and yearning and nostalgia, hope and yet fatalism too, for something or someone lost. The blog actually gives the nod to the Wikipedia definition of saudade, which is “a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.”
An online thread, “favorite untranslatable words,” offers even more about saudade (including a pronunciation): “It’s Portuguese for homesickness, but can be applied to just about anything. You can feel saudade (sow-DA-gee, for those of us who learned our Portuguese in the south of Brazil) for a place, and [sic] food, a person, a state of being.”
All that in one word!
But what I want to know is whether there is a word in any language for “creeping sense of despair at the prospect of the coming winter”? If there isn’t, there ought to be.
- Matador Network: “20 awesomely untranslatable words from around the world.“
- Mental Floss: “Fifteen wonderful words with no English equivalent.”
- Better Than English: Untranslatable Words (website)
- Portuguese Language Blog
*** I’m not even trying to pronounce these. Saudade seems to have more than one pronunciation, and as for the the rest, ummm. I could probably handle “tartle,” but what’s the point without the accent? Stay tuned, however; I hope to bring you a conversation about saudade with a native Brazilian.