Dear gringos, the Portuguese word “Saudade” doesn’t mean what you make it sound like

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Hello readers,

It’s national day of saudade in Brazil! Feliz dia da saudade! ūüôā

As you know, I am from Brazil, and my native tongue is Portuguese. It’s one of the so-called romance languages, and it sounds, as I’ve been told, like a French person trying to speak Spanish. While I am not sure of the accuracy of this statement (I hardly think I sound French), one thing is for sure: I have seen quite a few articles and books mentioning a particular word from my language that seems to be driving gringos to swoon: saudade.

From Michaelis Dictionary, here is what the word means:


1¬†Sentimento nost√°lgico e melanc√≥lico associado √† recorda√ß√£o de pessoa ou coisa ausente, distante ou extinta, ou √† aus√™ncia de coisas, prazeres e emo√ß√Ķes experimentadas e j√° passadas, consideradas bens positivos e desej√°veis; sodade, soidade.


Nostalgic and melancholic feeling associated to the remembrance of the person or thing absent, distant or extinct, or the absence of things, pleasures and emotions experimented and already past, considered positive and desirable goods.

The word “saudade” is being quite misused for what looks like to be a need for adding romantic foreignness to a story or an article. It makes me roll my eyes, really, but I didn’t feel a need to write a post about it until I read the following quote:

“There was a word for this feeling; a Portuguese word he‚Äôd once learned from Lucia: Saudade. A vague longing for something that cannot exist again, or perhaps never existed.”¬†‚Äē¬†Mira T. Lee,¬†Everything Here is Beautiful


Now, the character in particular was daydreaming about a woman who used to be his lover and now had a child that maybe was his. He was longing for something that did not exist, would not exist, and would never exist: relationship with her. To convey a romantic feeling of longing for something that only existed in his head, he used the word saudade. Which does not speak of things that can’t be.

I feel that some hype around the word started with a few articles from gringo websites, for example Buzzfeed, describring the word in a rather vague and romantic way, which I suppose is the surest way to get people to adapt the meaning to whatever woe they wish to express.

Another quote that misses the meaning of the word, though not by much:

‚ÄúPerdu had tasted the¬†saudade¬†of life, a soft, warm feeling of sorrow‚Äēfor everything, for nothing. / “Saudade”:¬†a yearning for one’s childhood, when the days would merge into one another and the passing of time was of no consequence. It is the sense of being loved in a way that will never come again. It is a unique experience of abandon. It is everything that words cannot capture.‚Ä̬†‚Äē¬†Nina George,¬†The Little Paris Bookshop

Saudade isn’t exactly tied to childhood; it can be any time of your life. Also, as the dictionary shows, words can quite capture it. But I agree that it’s “a unique experience of abandon” and “the sense of being loved in a way that will never come again”, although I’d say that it’s not just a feeling that you have for being loved. It could express missing something that used to be simpler (like your childhood), or that made you feel more at home (like homesickness, or missing a friend). Anything that you miss in a deep way.

I tell my parents that I have “saudade” for them although I have plans to meet them in a few months – so you see, it doesn’t necessarily convey the meaning of never having that experience again. They are my family, I miss them deeply and I wish I’d see them sooner and more often, so I use “saudade”. It’s perfectly fine. My sister told them the same thing one day after seeing them, although she’d see them again a week later. Not as tragically romantic as some books would make you think.

I cannot come up with more quotes at the moment, and I don’t mean with this post to bash authors or shame them. It’s not easy to understand the way a word is actually used in daily conversation if all you have is a loosely translated dictionary definition. But really, most of the time you can just say you miss something or someone. I have the feeling, from using the word as a first language speaker, that saudade conveys a bit more feeling, a bit more sorrow, a bit more longing than “I miss you”. But the meaning is similar enough that I still recommend the translation.

But if you want to tell your loved ones that you miss them and you feel like giving a sprinkling of extra longing and feeling to it, just tell them: Estou com saudades de você.

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2 thoughts on “Dear gringos, the Portuguese word “Saudade” doesn’t mean what you make it sound like

  1. Pingback: Dear gringos, the Portuguese word ‚ÄúSaudade‚ÄĚ doesn‚Äôt mean what you make it sound like – lauravent69

  2. Pingback: Blog Post Ideas for Book Bloggers | Naty's Bookshelf

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