The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


It is thought that the Portuguese first learned to speak of an emotion saudade (pronounced sow-dahd, or sow-dah-jee in Brazil) in the fifteenth century, during the Age of Discovery. Ships set sail from the port of Lisbon on their way to Africa and South America. Those left behind lived out their days scanning the horizon, longing for the return of their loved ones. Female troubadours sang of their soidade (the older spelling) in their cantigas d’amigo (“songs about a boyfriend”), their wistful lyrics expressing an ache for distant lovers, and the happiness of the past. Today, people speak of feeling saudade not only for distant people, but for far-flung places, and even misplaced objects as well.

Saudade: a melancholic yearning for someone, or something, that is far away or lost. It’s always there, pulsing below the surface with its HOPEFULNESS tinged with GRIEF. There is a vague yearning, yet it is interlaid with resignation and the pleasure of remembering past joys.

Some emotions are so intimately tied to a particular artistic form that it’s impossible to think of them without it. Melancholy and the blues. National pride and anthems. In the early nineteenth century, saudade found its modern form in fado music. Meaning “fate” or “destiny,” fado was born on the cobbled alleys of Libson’s Alfama district, home to sailors and prostitutes. Influenced by the Afro-Brazilian music brought back to Portugal by the royal family and their entourage on returning from exile in Brazil in the 1820s, fado’s sobbing guitars and yearning voices evoke the experience of poverty, loss and the unfaithfulness of lovers. Fado is supposed to cleanse the singer of saudade’s bittersweet melancholy too.

So to sing fado is to matar saudades. Literally: to kill saudade.

See also: NOSTALGIA.