Swedish: vemod

qiaozhehui

Member
English - American
My Swedish wife used the word "vemod", the other day and then proceeded to claim that it was probably the "most Swedish" word she knew. She then tried to explain what it means, talking about being sad at the end of the short Swedish summer, etc. She could not, however, come up with an English translation that she thought was sufficient to describe the feeling of "vemod".

Of course, I was interested in finding some kind of translation into English and so looked it up in my Swedish-English dictionary. There it was translated as "melancholy," but my wife was not satisfied with that, saying that "vemod" was not necessarily a depressing feeling, although it was a sad one. According to her, it was kind of a mixture of positive and negative feelings, mixed also with a feeling of longing.

Wiktionary translates it alternatively as "pensive melancholy" and "tender sadness". Neither of these really makes the meaning of "vemod" any clearer to me.

Does anyone have a good translation or concise explanation of what "vemod" actually means? I figure if it it's one of the "most Swedish" words, I'd better learn properly what it means...

Thanks!
 
  • solregn

    Senior Member
    Swedish
    "Melancholy" or "sadness" with a touch of nostalgia, maybe?

    I found the following definition in Nationalencyklopedin:
    "vemod stämning av stillsam saknad och sorg över ngt som upplevs som förlorat: hon kände ~ vid tanken på att barnen snart skulle vara vuxna och utflugna ur boet; det var med ~ stenhuggarna lämnade sin arbetsplats för sista gången; hon kände sitt hjärta fyllas med ~"

    In English it would be something like "a quiet feeling of loss and sadness over something seen as disappeared/lost forever; she felt vemod at the thought of her children soon being adults and leaving home; it was with a feeling of vemod that the stonemasons left the working site for the last time; she felt her heart filling with vemod"

    Vemod is not an intense outgoing feeling, it's more slowly fretting inside somebody.

    I hope that helps you a couple of steps in the right direction towards understanding :) Maybe you have to feel it yourself to truly understand!
     

    cocuyo

    Senior Member
    Swedish - Stockholm
    How do you think nostalgia might fit as a description? It's rather close in my opinion. I don't think of the expression as typically Swedish, but rather German, Wehmut.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The expression höstens vemod (autumn's melancholy(?)) seems to be a common term. I wonder what this refers to? Is it that autumn brings a feeling of melancholy or is it nostalgia for/regret at the passing of summer.

    I ask because I don't find the Swedish autumn particularly sad.
     

    Lars H

    Senior Member
    Hej
    For me, "nostalgi" is a feeling of something that has been gone for a long time. To think about the summers one had as a kid would be nostalgic.
    When it comes to "melankoli" I totally agree with Qiaozhehui's (that name is hard :) to memorize) wife. It's too negative - and strong.
    An example where I would use "vemod", is like when you move to a new home. You look forward to move, the new home could be a really great thing and bring many opportunities for the future, but... Since you also liked the old home it is with some "vemod" that you leave it. And the feeling is there because of something that happens now, not in a distant past.
    Does this make any sense?
     

    mnl

    Member
    Danish
    For what it's worth, Lars H's description fits the Danish use of the word perfectly, too.

    Say you work as an Assistant to the Regional Manager and get a new job as an Assistant Regional Manager in a bigger and more important company across town; then you would assure the colleagues you leave behind that it is with "vemod" that you are leaving them. So many great memories, such fantastic colleagues to have worked with.
     

    vestfoldlilja

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    I think a more accurate translation than nostalgia is wistfulness. It’s a difficult word to translate because it encompasses so many different feelings and is used in many different situations. Nostalgia can perhaps better be used to describe a feeling towards a specific time or period, while vemod, goes directly to the people involved and shared memories.

    What Solregn said rings very true to me” Vemod is not an intense outgoing feeling, it's more slowly fretting inside somebody.”
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    In the situations described by Lars H and mnl, it seems to me that the word "regret" (ångran) fits perfectly.
    Granted that it can be difficult to describe a feeling, what is the difference between vemod (however it is translated) and regret?

    Perhaps "melancholic regret" or (in better English) a combination of sadness and regret. We often say "it is with a mixture of sadness and regret that I am leaving the company".
     
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    Lars H

    Senior Member
    In the situations described by Lars H and mnl, it seems to me that the word "regret" (ångran) fits perfectly.
    Granted that it can be difficult to describe a feeling, what is the difference between vemod (however it is translated) and regret?

    Perhaps "melancolic regret" or (in better English) a combination of sadness and regret. We often say "it is with a mixture of sadness and regret that I am leaving the company".

    I think "regret" is a somewhat different word, and a bit weaker than "ångra".

    "Ångra" means "I really wish I did not do that" and "ångra" only works if there actually is a choice involved. So you should not be able to "ångra" your graduation day (what would be the better alternative?) but you could absolutely feel "vemodig" about leaving school and all of your friends.
    Exactly the same would be the case when you quit a job for a far better one.

    In English there are phrases like "I regret to say". Here "regret" is used in a way that cannot be translated into "ångra".

    So regret is quite close but not spot on.
     

    cocuyo

    Senior Member
    Swedish - Stockholm
    I think regret is the closest you might get in modern English. Remorse is a possible candidate, although in this meaning it is obsolete and might very likely be misinterpreted by anyone who does not know that it might also mean compassion.
     

    mnl

    Member
    Danish
    I don't know if this is helpful, but this discussion makes me think that vemod ("the most Swedish word") and the Portuguese word saudade (which people like to claim to be unique to the Portuguese) have a lot in common. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudade - for people who trust wikipedia.

    Sorry if that undercuts two sources of national pride in one wikipedia-entry, but the similarities were too big to ignore.
     

    Södertjej

    Senior Member
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    And then you have morriña in Galician language, which means the same thing as saudade. In Spanish we normally don't translate it. It is some kind of nostalgy anyway, but since that's a very personal feeling, I think people tend to add a lot of personal nuances. I'd say it's "a nostalgic longing" for something, but I'm not so sure it has to be for something recently gone.
     

    Södertjej

    Senior Member
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    I don't think so since we normally use the Galician word, but as I said, it's about feelings, not maths so you can expect different personal nuances in its usage.
     
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