Is ‘Saudade’ the Defining Word of ‘Portugality’? Let’s Reconsider

What other word lies at the heart of the Portuguese soul?

Rui Alves


A Portuguese woman looking at a male “fadista” while he plays his guitars and sings a fado.
“Fado” by José Malhoa in Museu da Cidade | Source: Wikimedia Commons

What if the word many believe best captures the essence of Portugal isn’t “saudade”? Personally, I think there’s a shorter, yet equally elusive term that truly embodies our national ethos.

First, we need to consider the meaning of feeling Portuguese. We have a word for that. We call it “portugalidade.

In the Portuguese lexicon, this descriptive noun is relatively new, as it dates back to the aftermath of World War II and the rise of Salazar’s Estado Novo regime.

Similarly, the word saudade lacks a direct equivalent in English. Neither “longing” nor any other term fully encapsulates all the semantic nuances inherent in the term.

The epic Portuguese poet Luís de Camões, who will have the new international airport in the Lisbon area named after him, was one of our greatest saudade troubadours:

“Aquela triste e leda madrugada,
cheia toda de mágoa e de piedade,
enquanto houver no mundo saudade
quero que seja sempre celebrada.”
Luís de Camões

“That sad and joyful dawn,
full of sorrow and compassion,
as long as there is “saudade” in the world
I want it to be forever celebrated.”




Rui Alves
Editor for

Language teacher, linguist, life coach, published author (joined the Army and worked for the EU). A publisher, digital ronin, musician and alchemist of sound.