For years and years and years almost beyond counting, there’s one thing that I have continually been told by Romanians.
And that’s that there’s a special word in their language that “cannot be translated.” And that word is dor.
Last week, the Unsleeping Eye brought me a perfect example of this:
I asked my wife about dor and she said the same thing. It’s just a mysterious, magical word that the Romanian language has, and it is precious and beautiful and impossible to translate, and every Romanian speaker is in love with this word.
I’m not quite so sure about that.
The word dor means something like “to miss someone” or “to miss something.” You can miss a person (mi-e dor de tine) or you can miss a place (mi-e dor de acasa).
Effectively, its literal translation means “I want (to see) you/it.”
But is that really any different than how other languages express it?
At issue is that Latin, the foundational language for this word in Romanian, didn’t really have a clear way to say that you “missed” something or someone. In Romanian, dor comes from the Latin word dolus which means “pain” and is related to the Romanian word durere (which means “pain”).
In Spanish, saying that you miss someone/something is kind of complicated and refers to how someone being gone makes them feel empty inside.
And the Portuguese language has their own “untranslatable” word for this phenomenon of missing someone/something called saudade.
So, I’m not quite sure that Romanian is all that unique with this word dor.
DEX on the Lex
Here are the various official definitions of dor:
- Pain (related to other people).
- An illness.
- A soul/heart pain.
- A powerful desire to see someone/something you care about.
- Appetite (to drink or eat something).
- An erotic attraction.
Certainly quite nuanced, but I don’t know if this rises to the occasion of “untranslatable.”
Even looking through some poems in Romanian, I couldn’t find anything that convinced me that dor was a truly special or unique phenomenon.
Instead, I think what makes dor special is the amount of feeling that goes into it.
I’ve never met a Romanian person who just casually “misses” someone. When they miss you, they miss you wholeheartedly. It’s never a shallow emotion but one that often causes tears.
As you know, I used to watch a show a long time ago on Romanian TV called Schimb de Mame where two mothers from two different families would swap places for a week.
And every single time, and I do mean every single time, there would be lots of crying whenever the mom would leave. Not just from the kids, but the adults as well.
That’s the power of dor in a Romanian person’s heart. When Mom was gone for a week, they felt it.
That’s why, I think, that this word is considered so special by Romanians. Not for any unique linguistic or philological reasons but because of the profundity and intensity of how much Romanians miss the people and places that they love the most.
And that’s beautiful.