There’s a Word for That: Saudade

atkins-bookshelf-wordsEver miss someone so deeply that it leaves you profoundly sad and nostalgic? The Portuguese have a word for that: saudade (pronounced sou DAH duh). Saudade is defined as a deep emotional state of a pensive, sad longing for a loved person or something that is absent (think of a childhood pet); or a profound longing for something that is unattainable (think of Gatsby and his beloved Daisy); or an acute sense of a moment slipping away (think of a special occasion, like graduation or a wedding). It is not the same feeling as melancholy, which has no obvious or specific cause.

The Portuguese word is derived from two similar sounding words: the Latin word solitat-, the stem of solitas meaning “solitude or loneliness” and the Portuguese word saudar, meaning “to salute or greet.” Leave it to Brazilians to capture the emotion in a song from the early 1960s — “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl From Ipanema,” music by Antonio Carlos Jonim, lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes translated into English by Norman Gimbel). In an essay for The New York Times titled “Brazilian Yearning and Imminent Loss” film and music critic Stephen Holden observes that the famous Brazilian song is “a potent distillation of the concept of saudade, a feeling of melancholic nostalgia that characterizes so much Brazilian music. ‘And when she passes, he smiles, but she doesn’t see,’ goes the wistful punch line. Longing for the unattainable, and an acute sense of the moment’s slipping away: That’s saudade.”

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