Words That Don’t Exist in English

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. Wittgenstein

Everyone who speaks english as a second language is overwhelmingly bothered by the words he think are essencial for a good life, but that do not exist in that language. (Overwhelming by the way does not exist in my mother tongue portuguese). Here I will talk about the ones I think that cannot be missing no longer. That make life worth living. If you have another first language, I suggest you comment adding your own words to the list.

1 Carinho: (Other languages, Spanish: cariño) Best english equivalent: caress.

Carinho is a noun. It is something you do to people. I’m going to do carinho on Yannik means that I will do something involving physical contact and affection to Yannik. Like put him on my lap and stroke his head, or hug him, or in some way demonstrate love and affection in a physical way.

Carinhoso is the adjective that denotes the person who is usually full of physical affection towards others. The typical cookies-cooking grandma is a person who is carinhosa. When you shake hands or hug with a carinhoso sometimes you feel your body hair go up, because it is just good.

2 Saudade: (Spanish: sodades) Best english equivalent: The feeling you have when you miss someone.

Saudades is a noun as well. It is something you have of people. I have saudades of Petra means that I miss Petra, not only in the sense that I want her to be with me, but in the sense that there is something in my heart that reminds me of the affection I have for her. In fact, you can have saudades of someone even if they are not coming back. The relation of saudade refers to the past, meaning that you miss not the actual Jessie, but the Jessie you have met a long time ago, with whom you have spent great times. You can have saudades of someone that you hate now, because the feeling you have is directed towards the past.

Saudades is a persistent feeling, in the sense that you feel it even when you don’t know it is there, and that you may have saudades of something that you don’t remember, it is a state of mind independent of the thing you miss, in a sense, but usually you can remember.

You can have saudades of situations, places, years, persons, animals etc… like missing. When you have saudades of someone you are declaring a good feeling, not like nostalgia, or missing as in lacking, but as if you were throwing some energy in that person. Saudades is something that may make you cry, but you are more likely to smile in retrospect.

3 Ficante: No equivalent in any language.

Ficante hasn’t made it into portuguese dictionaries yet, but it sure will. It is a new word invented to describe a relashionship, like the words “dating, seeing, married”. It is an adjective, and the use is like “Joel is Marion’s ficante” or “This is Joel, my ficante” said by Marion. I must introduce a Brazilian notion of sexuality before I proceed:

Brazilians like kissing, for us, kissing is not just the thing that happens prior to sex, the way towards sex with girl, or something like that. Kissing is worth it in itself. Kissing is something you do because you want to kiss, not because you want to have sex. Of course one doesn’ exclude the other. In fact some people like kissing while they are having sex, and think that this makes the experience twice as absorbing, commiting and pleasant. I have heard people talking about kisses that were better than sex, and I myself have done comparisons in that sense. Enough about kissing.

When you kiss someone, here, it does not automatically mean neither that you will have sex, nor that you are now in a relashionship. It could be that you have just kissed, and that is all.

Now suppose that you have kissed more than once (you may or may not have had sex), Joel and Marion have kissed each other a few times, they are beggining to like each other, what is the nature of that relashionship? First, they are not girlfriend and boyfriend, for none asked the other to get into a formal relashionship. Second, they are not obliged to only kiss one another. Third they may like each other, like a lot, love, or love a lot.

Now, most cultures do not have the Second one, if people are kissing, there is tacit moral obligation of not kissing other people. The word ficando means exactly a relashionship in which this does not happen. Both sides know that they can kiss other people. Two people may be in terrible love, passion, or just liking each other, they can be ficando. Ficando (the name of the relashionship between two “ficantes”) is independent of how much you like someone, it describes only that you kiss each other (having sex or not) and that no one has been tyranic enough to ask if the other one want to be “namorando” (A girlfriend is “namorando” her boyfriend, a boyfrend is “namorando” his girlfriend, that is what it means) in the sense that you are not allowed to have relations with others. Of course that some people have formal open relashioships, the difference is that here, if you are in an informal relashionship, by definition you are in an open relashioship. Furthermore, that does not mean that you do not love someone, it just means that the relashioship you have has not been formalized in any way.

Ficante, Carinhoso and Saudades are the words that I think are essential in the portuguese language, and that restrict the world of thought of people who do not know it. I would like to see them in english someday, for I think they make the world a better place.

7 comentários em “Words That Don’t Exist in English”

  1. Realmente quando vc acaba querendo expressar em uma língua específica algo que não pode ser expressado nessa língua, acaba formando frases estranhas, e procurando no dicionário por palavras que possam expressar aquilo que não sabe dizer.

    Acho o japonês uma língua comparativamente fácil de expressar coisas de várias maneiras, e o português comparativamente duro e “unyielding”.

    Procurando no Google, talvez carinho = fondle? (acho que saudade é nostalgia mesmo; ficante não sei, mas ficar é “to hang up with” ou “to make out with”)

  2. cuddle is the same as carinho. There are 3 words for ´ ter saudades de´ overlooked by the writer ´long for´; ´yearn for´; ´pine for´ or the present participle equivalents e.g. Cleopatra´s expression of saudades for the dead Anthony in one of the greatest scenes of Shakespeare ¨I have immortal longings in me¨

    1. Cuddle is not really the same as carinho. Carinho is more broad than cuddle, and originates the name “carinhoso” which is an affectionate person. I agree that is very similar though, it is just that the cultural baggage that it brings and the way it is used by Brazilians differ in a rather significant way.
      It is the same for saudade. Saudade can have its meaning translated to other languages, such as Spanish and English, but the fact that it is a noun and the social context to it changes it significantly. Saudade got its cultural meaning when the Portuguese traveled around the world colonizing other lands. It expresses not only the longing, but also a sorrow for a love that will never return, a time that will never come back. They had saudade from Portugal, their homeland, which they would never see again the way the knew it, a constant reminder of the choice they made to leave their home. Saudade is sadness, it is the longing for something that never happened, or something that will not be anymore.
      The navigations were so important to the Portuguese language history that changed even the way verbs are conjugated. The need for expressing very specifically when in the past or present something is/was happening generated far more verb tenses than we observe in English for example.
      It is not only the meaning of the word. It is the culture, history, and the way people use it that makes it special, as it shapes how people think and feel.
      Brazilian/Portuguese words that I know don’t always have perfect translations are:



      Both super present words in my vocabulary as a Brazilian kid 🙂

  3. “Ficante, Carinhoso and Saudades are the words that I think are essential in the portuguese language, and that restrict the world of thought of people who do not know it”

    I really enjoyed your article. I am currently in Brazil meeting friends, and have had all these words described to me at one point or another. And it is nice to finally have them described properly.

    And I agree, it is nice to have simple concise words to describe these actions, feelings, or situations. But I in no way feel limited or restricted in my thought, as someone who speaks two languages(not portuguese yet sadly), and dabbles in a few others, I find it really offensive whenever (other language learners)people make claims like this. Please, realize that it is you who is limited with the language, not the language, everything can be expressed and thought. If you can’t do it in one word, then probably an expression, or an image or any number of tools can be used. Finnish people can express a lot in single words, but when you meet them they are always the most humble about their language. I wish everyone was like the finnish.

    This is a pet peave of mine. Really did enjoy the article though.

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