What is the hardest word to translate from Spanish?

In lists compiled by linguists and translators, it seems “duende” is a word that many experts regard as the hardest word in Spanish to convey in other languages.

In the dictionary, the word is listed as “elf” or “magic.” However, in actual practice, when the word shows up in text, it is rarely in the context of a woodland spirit, although that is where the word’s etymology begins.

In 1933 Spanish poet and theater director Federico Garcia Lorca gave a lecture in Buenos Aires titled “Play and Theory of the Duende” in which he addressed the fiery spirit behind what makes great performance stir the emotions:

“The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ”The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation … everything that has black sounds in it, has duende.”

So, could this quality be translated via the use of a calque as “black sounds?” That doesn’t quite work, although Lorca does use that term in describing the qualities of duende. A meaning for the untranslatable usually ends up being borrowed from the original language and becoming a loan word.

The word “duende” often represents an emotion or response to a selected piece of art. Perhaps this is exactly what makes it so difficult to translate; can you ever really translate a feeling? How would you translate this beautiful, if difficult concept into English?
mega millions


  1. Ulysses -  December 5, 2016 - 11:51 pm

    I think a lot of the comment miss the point. Duende means simply Gnome. Now, like many other words (cool, hot, awesome, etc) different cultures or social groups give the word different associative or symbolic applications, but I think that local or regional applications don’t qualify as meanings of a word.

  2. HL -  June 29, 2015 - 8:42 am

    Duende in the sense that is explained here it would be approximately the genius to transmit emotions through the flamenco. If a singer, a dancer or a guitarist achieves to touch or to excite deeply the audience, people says he “has duende” because he transmits the emotions masterfully. This is also applicable to a song or an interpretation (this song “has duende”).

  3. Mariana Baquero -  May 28, 2015 - 3:24 pm

    I want to get “duende” tattooed on my shoulder because I have a passion for flamenco, & the “black sounds” but why would he choose a word that has all these different meanings?!..maybe because the Tata Duende plays the guitar & it symbolizes flamenco? :/ idk

  4. Roland Scales -  March 17, 2015 - 9:53 am

    A sprite. In the context of the article Lorca himself dismisses the “angel” and the “muse” (“Ángel y musa vienen de fuera; el ángel da luces y la musa da formes”) as totally alien to the duende and as inferior varieties of inspiration.

    • Iggy -  October 29, 2015 - 7:32 pm


  5. Lexi -  October 7, 2013 - 1:48 pm

    So I just messed up my page by clicking tab and realized my above comment posted to the wrong thread. Lovely.

    • j.Kirk -  March 30, 2016 - 7:51 am

      Lexi–i had to laugh–your honesty in clicking the tab and posted to the wrong thread. Then, the part that LOL’f'd me the most was when you finished your comment with “Lovely.” Hey who hasn’t done that many times before. It’s like “butt-dialing.” I butt-dialed 911 a couple weeks ago. I said, “I’m so sorry, I butt-dialed 911 : I thought she was gonna laugh, but she says it happens all the time. If you hadn’t clicked the tab by accident — #1. I would not have had a major lol, … and … #2. realizing humans’ are fallible at every new advancement of technology. I’m sure when the way-old timer’s used smoke signals to send messages across the valley, they received burns, too. Thanks Lexi.

  6. Lexi -  October 7, 2013 - 1:47 pm

    “War” is a word that bothers me, more than disgusts me… Really, though, try to pronounce it over and over again. “Wor.” “War.” “Warrr.” “Wore.” “Warr.”

    That makes my mouth sore.

    But as for sick words?

    “Secretion” and “crevice” have got to be pretty high up there.
    And “slit,” like when someone says something about “slitting” their wrist or something. Eugh…

  7. licha -  April 17, 2013 - 3:22 am

    My mom used to always tell us, “ya duermete. Pareces duende despierta toda la noche.”

  8. [...] Duende:   Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, sprite like entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.” There’s actually a nightclub in the town of La Linea de la Concepcion, where I teach, named after this word. http://hotword.dictionary.com/duende/ [...]

  9. LYING-IN | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  December 1, 2012 - 3:16 pm

    [...] — ‘Lying-In’ observing Media Control — The Search for a Soul — DUENDE –  And in general ‘Madness’ and skulduggery. — ‘Empurple’ the [...]

  10. Charmetolls -  August 14, 2012 - 3:06 am


    “Sunshower” – wiki it

  11. Peter -  August 5, 2012 - 2:50 pm


    Other words similar to Lorca´s Duende;

    Taksu (balinese), Tarab (arabic), It or Groove (beat culture, jazz, etc), Ashé (Capoeira), Zone (sports), Flow (psychology), Element (K. Robinson), and maybe also Mojo etc………. It´s not the same, but it points the same way.

    May we all have it !!!!! (the little gnomes too)

  12. Sonja -  April 22, 2012 - 11:31 am

    Oh, dang-it. I was supposed to be commenting on the word that sounds grossest in the English language. Sorry!

  13. Sonja -  April 22, 2012 - 11:30 am

    tutelage. I can’t stand that word. It sounds gross.

  14. James -  March 28, 2012 - 1:10 pm

    Aesthetic ecstasy is termed “rasa” in Sanskrit, referring to the ineffable after-”taste” of bliss that results from experiential participation in true art. “Like a mute tasting sugar for the first time,” you can’t really put words to it, but it is real–and it is truly “magical”. Thus, by its very nature “rasa” is a metaphor for what is beyond the confines of verbal-conceptual mind. How does one rightly “translate” a word that is meant to only expressively point to what exists outside the cage of language and mere thought?

    “Duende” is–at least regionally, and perhaps archaically, in Andulasia–like “rasa”, an expressive pointer to the reality of aesthetic ecstasy. Rather than pointing to the subjective experience of bliss, however, “duende” points to the presumed agent of that magical transaction: What is happening is clearly supernatural, beyond the merely human. The artist has been taken under a spell and is transmitting that spell to those who truly participate in the artistic happening.

    Who cast that spell? It must have been one of those chthonic spirits we see from time to time at twilight and dusk. The “duende” has got you, artist friend, and it has got me, too.

  15. christian -  March 27, 2012 - 4:28 pm

    i’m mexican and i had never heard that “Duende” meant emotion, perhaps in other places of Latinoamerica means something else, but in here it only means Elf, but thank you for the contribution to my knowledge…

  16. Mary -  March 27, 2012 - 1:12 pm

    Well, I speak spanish, my native language, and I must say “I don’t know what you are talking about!” A duende is a duende, a gnome, a troll, a leprechaun, someone short or small (I remember one of my cousins use to call my youngest cousin “duende”, just because she was little).

    I think the text from Garcia Lorca is just a metaphorical text, he was a poet after all. I don’t see why you take it literally.

    Really, a duende is a duende.. hehe

  17. [...] It is appropriate to end this conversation about Portuguese magic on the Duende. Recently, the word has taken additional meaning, originating with the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. He said, ‘All that has dark sounds have duende.’ And there is no greater truth…thus duend… [...]

  18. Cassie -  April 14, 2011 - 7:04 pm

    I think spirit is a good translation here, as it can be a nonphysical entity or exist inside a body, for example an elf or dwarf, as seems to be most common here, and also has mystical, somewhat magical qualities. I think Federico Garcia Lorca uses the term metaphorically, to mean something along the lines of a spirit or a soul, or just soul meaning unique, awe-inducing-ness.

  19. Noxodas -  April 14, 2011 - 12:23 pm

    This is so interesting… in a wacky (or wacked-out) sort of way…
    I am a native spanish speaker, have worked as an interpreter and translator. Never had any difficulty with this word. To me, “duende” has always been an elf, perhaps with a touch of fairy and a pinch of sprite, a magical, playful, sometimes mischievous creature. Never a goblin, which most often has malicious or evil connotations. Never the soul… and although duende is a magic creature, it is not “magic” per se in the sense that “mojo” is “magic”. It is not an inner longing, no hidden muse, no search for the inner anything… and although anybody is free to use Duende as a metaphor for whatever they may please, most times a Duende is just a duende…

  20. Ray V -  March 27, 2011 - 1:24 pm

    Nymph is and remains a magical woodlands creature, impishly playful and residing somewhere between the higher gods and mankind. They have been magical since before early English existed. There is nothing hard or black about the term in English, Greek, Latin, or Spanish. That one artist conveys a dark, or black, impression in the word to heighten the marketing mystique around his work is not surprising. But don’t sucker the rest of into some difficult and unique dark meaning here. It’s bad enough modern science has tried to do away with the wood nymphs in the forrest behind my home. Luckily they pay no heed to modern science. I suggest translators do the same to this article.

  21. Roberto De León González -  March 25, 2011 - 5:41 pm

    There is a current in language and translation studies which advocates the use of words without a short, one-word translation, in the original. You have to provide context in order to understand, for example, that “Buen provecho” is roughly equivalent in sense to “Bon appetit”. A good book on the matter is Christopher J. Moore’s “In Other Words”, published by Levenger Press and Walker & Company.

  22. Astalethought -  March 23, 2011 - 4:49 pm

    Uhm,,,,isn’t this exactly how we use the word “muse” nowadays? Noone thinks of a muse as a mythological being but as an artistic,creative inspiration. What is your muse could be interior, a person, a thought, a feeling, “The muse is not in the throat; the muse climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”

  23. Joel -  March 22, 2011 - 8:21 pm

    Could it be related to the Greek concept of “Logos”?

  24. JuanManuel -  March 22, 2011 - 11:18 am

    Un duende… a gnome.

  25. popi -  March 21, 2011 - 3:19 pm

    one thing we spanish speakers have in common is the language and its grammar,but our usage has evolved distinctly in all our spanish speaking republics…as an example,eliminating the accent,one can usually tell where people come from by the words they use in speech…puerto ricans,cubans,mexican,argentinians,colombians,venezuelans,as an example use different words to explain an act or action,or event…

  26. CARIES | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  March 14, 2011 - 8:41 am

    [...] This here is one of those antiquated cross-references of ‘duende’ and squishy happy state of minds. — ‘Caries’ could actually kill you and eat your brain away — Just ask Frank [...]

  27. elske -  March 10, 2011 - 10:23 am

    Maybe a nice input
    My Daughter ;s name is Duende
    first time I heard the word was in theatreclass , where we studied on Lorca.
    ALso it is used in Flamingo dance,
    next to that, and the elfes,to me, It is about : “”a state of divine inspiration”"
    its all in a gasp, a flash of :life, inspiration, breath , creation, emotion, anger, passion
    Also Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about Duende,she talks about Duende , and how difficult to catch the meaning of it.ust like the word: its a moment that flashes by
    well, All I can say:She is..a beautiful Duende

  28. Malvino -  February 28, 2011 - 12:43 am

    You deleted my reply, which actually explains the meaning, but leave up lots of people who can’t even be bothered to read your post or have no idea?

    I’m out of here, your mods are way too power trippy.

  29. frankj -  February 25, 2011 - 8:38 am

    It is considerable when having two exactly the same words of different cultures have different literal meanings. Which only proves that language is as broad as culture. While some language do not have the literal translation of a word from a particular language, it shows that languages of different culture also varies accordingly.

  30. leon -  February 24, 2011 - 12:43 pm

    in russia it means ghoul or ghost

  31. hi -  February 23, 2011 - 4:45 pm


  32. storymender -  February 23, 2011 - 4:06 pm

    Goethe used a concept of the daemonic (based, of course, on the classical term which Shelby already mentioned above) which seems like it might also relate to this idea of the creative force welling up, as if of its own will, inside one.

  33. Ruth -  February 23, 2011 - 3:52 pm

    being a fluent English and Spanish speaker, i extremely disagree with this the hardest word to translate from Spanish to English is definitely not ‘duende’. Sorry, but that is just as easy as ‘amor’ which means love, obviously most people know that.

  34. Ed -  February 23, 2011 - 3:28 pm

    How about Passion?

  35. lightningclad -  February 23, 2011 - 3:15 pm

    Geez…the author has already acknowledged that the word literally means ELF, folks. No need to say “it just means elf.” I think we’re talking connotation, context or evolved etymology based on new usage.

    I am Latino and a fully fluent Spanish speaker…I think those that have said “soul”, “muse” or “spirit/passion” are the closest.

    I’m also a musician…and there are times where you are so in the spirit of the music that you are spontaneously and impusively creating; everything flows, you can improvise on a dime, technique is not an issue and it just all FEELS right….and it’s coming from very deep inside you. You are expressing yourself without words. It’s almost trance-like. THAT to me, is duende.

    “In the zone” and “mojo” come close, but to me, not quite.

    Fascinating stuff (then again, I am easily amused :-).

  36. wordjunkie -  February 23, 2011 - 3:03 pm

    The article implies that “duende” would be something positive, but many of the commentators gave the word a negative implication. Of the supernatural believers, which would be closer to the truth? Something akin to evil, or passion and magic?

    My son is very small, could I call him “duende”?

  37. Robert W. -  February 23, 2011 - 2:38 pm

    Most interesting discussion.

    Another word, perhaps not as rich in nuance and translation challenges as “duende,” is a Spanish word which, on the surface of it, simply means “heart.” I’m speaking of course, of the word “corazon.”

    Is there anyone out there who agrees that when one really thinks about this word, and its many uses, and proposed meanings, that some of the latter are really untranslatable?

  38. larkin -  February 23, 2011 - 2:37 pm

    My dad, a Spanish professor, said that he would translate “duende” as “nymph” or “spirit.”

  39. Leros -  February 23, 2011 - 2:31 pm


    Black whatever? Elf…no no……

    Mojo is good.
    Passion is good.
    Positive creative/passionate energies…

  40. new guest -  February 23, 2011 - 2:06 pm

    Um, I go to Mexico every summer to visit my grandparents. I’ve never heard duende being used in the “passion” context. It’s usually said to refer to a midget. (unless of course, it’s being used in a slang way, in which case-oops.)

  41. e7 -  February 23, 2011 - 1:37 pm

    i think it’s spirit

  42. Unok -  February 23, 2011 - 12:28 pm

    *goblin (my bad)

  43. Unok -  February 23, 2011 - 12:26 pm

    Well I’m Spanish (from Spain) and I’ve lived here all of my life, and I have yet to hear the word “duende” used in a different meaning than “globin” or similar (literally or metaphorically).

  44. Mark V -  February 23, 2011 - 12:17 pm

    to throw a few more crude guesswork words into the pile, i would volunteer “inspiring intensity”

  45. flor-purpura -  February 23, 2011 - 12:06 pm

    Sometimes, when we can’t find something we say a “duende” took it. Well, that’s in Colombia. I don’t know about other countries.

    If something is missing or stolen it’s because there is a duende in your house, or a duende lives with you :)

  46. Fernando Goikoetxea-Iturraspe -  February 23, 2011 - 11:16 am

    I enjoyed this article. And as a native Spanish speaker myself, I have to disagree with those who criticize the article, claiming that duende IS easily translatable.

    Yes, the concept of what duende means can be explained in English, but I think the point is that there is no equivalent WORD for it. It is a word with many possible meanings, depending on its context. And while the word can mean dwarf, elf, magical woodland spirit, the personification of “mojo” etc., it is not any ONE of those things, and therefore subject to misinterpretation.

  47. Rob Saunders -  February 23, 2011 - 11:02 am

    I like the translation as “soul”, as one who brings life to music, art, literature… but perhaps, they believed there was a little person inside us that was the “real” you. Since “it” was inside us, it would necessarily have to be smaller, elfish… but again, not a scholar here, but have some experience with the Spanish people and culture, but not very broad, so don’t laugh.

  48. hksche2000 -  February 23, 2011 - 8:43 am

    In german, duende would be similar to “Geist” which has multiple meanings in different contexts, as well:
    – little ghosts, elves in the woodlands as in “Waldgeister”,
    – evil spirits as in a haunted house = “Geisterhaus”,
    – Genie in the bottle = Geist in der Flasche
    – Brain power as in “geistreich”or “grosser Geist” used to describe a
    brilliant person,
    – the prevailing spirit of an epoche as in “Zeitgeist” and
    – the alcohol and its effect on the imbibing of spirits as in “Weingeist”
    – spirited = begeistert

  49. ThatOneDude -  February 23, 2011 - 8:38 am

    I read reader’s digest all the time too.

  50. _Gleam_ -  February 23, 2011 - 8:32 am

    This could possibly be ‘my word’. :-O

  51. betty -  February 23, 2011 - 8:01 am

    “Duende” to me, coming from a mexican family, means dwarf/elf. I was raised to believe that these duendes play with small children who are unsupervised. If no one “comes to the rescue” these children then get sick and die not knowing why. We obviously have many defs to this word, this is mine. That is all.

  52. Carlos -  February 23, 2011 - 7:51 am

    I’m Puerto Rican also. And to me it just means dwarf.

  53. David -  February 23, 2011 - 7:24 am

    So it has a literal meaning AND a connotative meaning both of which may vary with context and locale – Welcome to the world of verbal communication… Anyone surprised?

  54. guymandude -  February 23, 2011 - 7:14 am

    When you give a performance, you have to conjure up the magic from within yourself. When you make love, there’s something magical. I think that translating ‘duende’ as ‘magic’ works. It can also mean ‘elf’; that’s not really a problem, since elf is also synonymous with magic and fantasy.


    Check 8 and 9 from the World English Dictionary; it’s very similar.

  55. Shelby -  February 22, 2011 - 9:14 pm

    Daimon (or daemon) seems perfect. The way Socrates used it, that is.

  56. Warjna -  February 22, 2011 - 7:38 pm

    You are all missing the point. The question is not how hard it is to translate the usual word duende – already given as an elf or earth spirit – but how hard it is to translate the added concept attributed to it by Lorca. He’s talking about a very elusive quality, and each of you has used other “untranslatable” i.e. elusive and subjective terms to explain that fire or inner magic of creation. Words like soul and mojo are very similar to the concept Lorca means. Sometimes, all we can say here in the US is that the person’s got “it” – and then we are equally at a loss to be able to put into words just what that “it” is.

  57. Eduardo -  February 22, 2011 - 7:21 pm

    The duende used in Flamenco is what this article says is hard to translate. When Flamenco people say you have duende, it means that you’re dancing like you’re possessed by the art. As a dancer, you become the dance. You feel like you’re in the zone, everything feels right, you feel everything, no need to translate or define.

  58. je t'aime -  February 22, 2011 - 7:17 pm

    Amor in spanish means ‘love’; amour (v) / l’amour (n) means ‘love’ in French.

  59. one who should not be named -  February 22, 2011 - 6:56 pm

    i am part of the hispanic world but i don’t see the word duende as hard to idenify.people are different and think this word is hard but some don’t think the same.when you hear the word duende, you might have to think alittle bit of what it means then you know.

  60. Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban -  February 22, 2011 - 6:55 pm

    The fact that there have been so many different translations in these comments proves Lorca’s point that “duende” has not a similar word in English.

    I am from northern Spain and there, as in the rest of Spain, “duende” means elf, a would spirit.

    In Andalucia (southern Spain), “duende” is also used, in the sense Lorca discusses, related to the Flamenco music and dance. In this sense it means something like “passion”, the creative spirit that comes from within, from the subconscious,. It is a spirit possession, in a way, for it is not controlled by the “thinking” part of the brain.

    Blueberry: A friend of mine from Sevilla, uses ‘angel’ to convey a person that has “charm”, a “je ne sais quoi” as the French say. (I don’t know what, in English).


  61. Angela -  February 22, 2011 - 6:47 pm

    I’m a Spanish-speaker and I’d translate it as ‘muse’.

  62. dinosaur -  February 22, 2011 - 6:39 pm

    in Mexico un duende means leprechaun or even troll.

  63. Darvin -  February 22, 2011 - 6:37 pm

    I am a native Spanish speaker and I have never heard such defiinitions for duende. Duende is dwarf in English as Blanca Nieves y los 7 enanos=White Snow and the seven dwarfs.

  64. Karla -  February 22, 2011 - 6:26 pm

    I agree with Carlos and Lucia. In Spanish you usually use “duende” just to refer to an elf-like creature or someone really small. Lorca’s reference is almost exclusive to literary jargon as Carlos mentions. But if you must translate in the context of the text above it could be muse, spirit of art…

  65. Jacob -  February 22, 2011 - 5:44 pm

    Wow, this is a very interesting article. I am going to go to my Spanish teacher, and tell him to translate ‘duende’.

  66. San -  February 22, 2011 - 5:42 pm


    I think the two meanings of duende (dictionary meaning and Lorca flamenco meaning) aren’t that far apart after all.

    For in both cases we are talking about a spirit, a supernatural entity; in the case of the forest, a spiritual creature (not necessarily “nice”); in the case of flamenco, a spirit that posesses the artist so that the spectators can feel it and perhaps thus have a little bit of duende themselves.

    It is true there isn’t a single English word that can convey both meanings; but it is also true that there is an equivalent word for each context: elf and mojo.

    Thanks for a great article


  67. Michael Roe -  February 22, 2011 - 5:04 pm

    To clarify enano means dwarf. Duende means goblin/dwarf/elf/elves.

    In Argentina and Uruguay it can be used somewhat different. They seem to have a slightly different understanding of what an Elf is; or prehaps they know more about the elves than the rest of us.
    Here in Spanish Duende or Elf isn’t just a short magical creature/person usually with an Irish accent, but also a magical power like a fairy or a spirit that can give either good or bad feelings/emotions.

    You can see an act, movie or art that gives you a magical like good or bad or any other kind of emotion. Es como el acto tiene un duendecito que te hace a sentir asi.

    You can go to a house or a place and feel a good or bad spirit/presence. Como que hay un duende, si sera buena o mala.

    Some people can read you palm or do other things to see your future or your luck, including reading cards where you get a message from a fairy or spirit or a duende.

    I still call a duende an Elf. I just have a slightly different understanding of the power of the Elves……..

  68. Manarasaur ;) -  February 22, 2011 - 3:29 pm

    That’s interesting, I’m taking Spanish now and thats a good thing to just know.

  69. Damo -  February 22, 2011 - 3:04 pm

    Morbo is pretty hard to translate

  70. Blueberry -  February 22, 2011 - 2:49 pm

    In Buenos Aires generally people say that someone has “angel”, not duende, when talking about talent.

  71. Ray -  February 22, 2011 - 2:24 pm


    sprite [spraɪt] -noun elfo masculine, duende masculine

    Ergo, duende is a sprite … That wasn’t so hard…!

    Let’s try French, le Cadeau. (My French tutor told me this was hard to explain. She also said the English word, Law, is really-tough to pronounce, for native-French.)

  72. Ray -  February 22, 2011 - 2:15 pm

    Sounds like you’re-all describing an earth sprite….

  73. jammin B jammin -  February 22, 2011 - 1:54 pm

    YOOOO!!!!!!!!!! wat up man i love these new words V.V wen yall coment umm…… can yall plz teell me soome new words??? it can be any words !! an if u do ::P THNX!!!!

  74. Victoria -  February 22, 2011 - 11:55 am

    In Belizean folklore, ‘Tata Duende’ or El Duende del Monte is a scary little elf with his feet backwards, has a long beard and wears a red hat. He is supposed to protect the animals in the forest. If you meet him in the bushes and he asks to see your hands, do not show him your thumbs or else he will break them off.

  75. Ooga Booga -  February 22, 2011 - 11:49 am

    besar a mi duende.

    Not to many responses on this one!!

  76. who_leo -  February 22, 2011 - 11:48 am

    In Colombia Duende is not just a word, or an elf. It is a study of magical arts. As far as conveyed by my elders from the old country, it has been a sort of dark arts study in which people release their physical being in order to become a Duende. Magical creatures, often doing harm and mischief. They are described as short and stout, with long ears and floppy hats, dressed in dark colors. This is a very interesting notion, and discussion. I like to see and hear all of the facets of the word out there, keep ‘em coming.

  77. Philtron Avenger -  February 22, 2011 - 11:37 am

    Sounds more like inspiration or epiphany. Those moments when something comes to you and the thoughts are coming to your faster than you can compose.

  78. louis paiz -  February 22, 2011 - 11:08 am

    in guatemala they have a duende which is a short being that wears a hat an plays guitar an pursues girls specially those with long hair. the cure for keep him away from them is to cut their hair. thanks

  79. Jon -  February 22, 2011 - 11:01 am

    It is energy. As Carlos Castaneda described the souls “duende” energy that emanates from our vortex

  80. LavenderBee -  February 22, 2011 - 10:21 am

    How about “chills up the spine”?

  81. Jessica -  February 22, 2011 - 10:16 am

    Perhaps duende could mean “soul”.

  82. Juan-Luis -  February 22, 2011 - 10:03 am

    As a spanish native, I must say that “duende” has two different meanings. The first one is that mentioned in comments above: a kind of dwarf-like entity, an elf, a goblin… And the second one is that one mentioned in the text, that one that Lorca could not translate to any different word. The usual expression is “tener duende”/ “to have duende”, which is clearly untranslatable; is something like to have the power, the feeling, the spirit, the creative inspiration needed to that music. And I think that in this precise second meaning, unrelated to any elf, it must be translated via the use of a calque.

  83. perle -  February 22, 2011 - 9:56 am

    very interesting article,speaking of the maestro,i read what he said about
    a duende not in the throat,but climbs up inside you from the soles of the feet,to put in a nut shell,he saying that it is a power! For example if you are a runner power comes threw your legs! that is duende! what he said is very educational.

  84. German L -  February 22, 2011 - 9:36 am

    I read plenty of books in Spanish growing up and duende meant elf. Dwarves are a totally different woodland creature. This is totally inaccuarate “However, in actual practice, when the word shows up in text, it is rarely in the context of a woodland spirit.” Duendes are elves in plenty of literary works. That’s what I knew them as, I only read what Garcia Lorca had to say about a duende when I was in college. This article is totally wrong.

  85. Gleice -  February 22, 2011 - 9:09 am

    Duende means gnome in Portuguese.

  86. Enrique Martel -  February 22, 2011 - 9:08 am

    Too deep in this one. Duende is in fact used as elf, or Santa’s elf, and it is also used in slang as someone extremely small. At least in Puerto Rico

  87. Alca -  February 22, 2011 - 8:33 am

    Duende is actually a term used in flamenco terms. A good flamenco artist has to have the “duende” which is this energy and this emotion that makes flamenco so passionate. It is remarkable that Federico García Lorca quoted a guitar player since he probably referred to a Flamenco guitar player. Be careful: out of the flamenco context, duende means definitely a dwarf.

  88. Jorge Lopez -  February 22, 2011 - 8:24 am

    This word also means a child who was never baftsied and died. that child turns into a spirit of a “duende” which they say and i belive that. haha well its not hard to describe. :)

  89. paulo eugenio -  February 22, 2011 - 7:49 am

    duende is elf or dwarfs in tagalog

  90. tacos -  February 22, 2011 - 7:48 am

    they never really made their point in that article

  91. Karen -  February 22, 2011 - 7:35 am

    Perhaps the best translation would be spirit or passion? In English, a spirit can be an elf or other supernational being. It is also an attitude or feeling. So, spirit seems to have the same connotation as duende, but passion may also suffice to describe the emotional element?

  92. Chespirito -  February 22, 2011 - 7:24 am

    please refer to el chapulin colorado. Duendes show up spontaneously as little puppets with faces of little filthy devils. scary stuff lol

  93. Lynn -  February 22, 2011 - 7:18 am

    My teachers translated “elf” as “enano” and “dwarf” as “duende.” I am fascinated by this cultural tidbit, which I would love to weave into lessons should I ever teach Spanish again. Thanks!

  94. Don Don -  February 22, 2011 - 7:12 am

    I would think that “spirit” would be usable match, both in its reference to a creature and to a emotion, inspiration and drive.

  95. FooGriffy -  February 22, 2011 - 7:09 am

    Interesting. I love anything involved with fairies, especially elves.
    So, ‘duende’ could mean someone thinks something else is ‘magical?’

  96. Nacho -  February 22, 2011 - 7:01 am

    Hahaha, I’m from Spain and I think mojo could be pretty close!! Good one Amy!

  97. javier mayorga -  February 22, 2011 - 6:50 am

    i have never used duende before but my mom has and if i had to guess i think thats right

  98. Lucia -  February 22, 2011 - 6:46 am

    I’m a native spanish and I’m less than fond of the drama spanish people (specially in the south) like to surround everything in. This word is not difficult to translate at all but it doesn’t mean anything definitive by itself, so the context provides most of its meaning. Even the official spanish reference (www.rae.es) defines it literally as ‘misterious and ineffable charm’ (encanto misterioso e inefable). The word is not very used nowadays, it’s more of a ‘deep south’ thing and it hasn’t crossed the generational gap over to today’s youth, at least among educated people. If you see it in a children’s book it definitely means a dwarf, an elf or a garden gnome. As for the ‘ineffable’ meaning I’d use ‘pasión’, which corresponds rather exactly with ‘passion’

  99. Carlos -  February 22, 2011 - 6:39 am

    Well, sorry but I have to disagree with this article. While Lorca and Borges might have given a new meaning to the word duende in Spanish, that’s literary jargon. Commoners like myself whose mother language is Spanish, don’t use the word duende except to mean an elf or other similar creature. If you check the dictionary of the Royal Academy of Spanish Language (which is the highest authority in this language) the main entry registered for duende is that of a fantasy spirit.

    Interestingly, one of the last entries points out a meaning that is only used in Andalucia, the region of Spain where Lorca was born. In Andalucia, duende means mysterious and indescribable charm, which is more or less the definition discussed in this article.

    While I appreciate learning things I didn’t know about my own language, I hardly think that “mysterious and indescribable charm” is so hard to use in English, specially if you take into account that in everyday life outside of Andalucia, nobody uses duende in that sense.

  100. Bee -  February 22, 2011 - 6:18 am

    In my opinion, duende, in this context, translates to inspire.

  101. konpeito -  February 22, 2011 - 6:18 am

    I guess it’s different from “fey”?

  102. César -  February 22, 2011 - 6:16 am

    Perhaps, the better translation is passion.

  103. César -  February 22, 2011 - 6:13 am

    In fact, this use of the word “duende” is more typical of the region of Andalusia, mostly used for “flamenco” dance and music, and is not very extended to other parts of Spain. From what I gather, it means something similar to being posessed by the spirit of the artwork, so that the artist expresses its fiery feelings, like a flame revealing the hotness and lawlessness of the fire.

  104. George Taylor -  February 22, 2011 - 6:10 am

    Duende was the name of an episode of Highlander: The Series referring, I think, to convey the passion of a dance or (in their case) a sword fight.

  105. julian -  February 22, 2011 - 6:10 am


  106. Ricardo Iriarte -  February 22, 2011 - 6:07 am

    It’s important to point out that Lorca’s understanding of duende is almost exclusive of his work, with people outside Poetry “always” using duende with its meaning of ghoul, spirit, ghost, etc. In fact, I have always believed Lorca only wanted to come up with a fancy, esoterical name for the drive behind his creative process (and therefore with something that would be indelibly associated with his name for years to come) when calling it “duende”…

  107. Luis -  February 22, 2011 - 6:02 am

    It´s hard to know why such a big deal to translate this word.
    “Duende” means small goblin/dwarf/elf, and it looks like that way in lots of other countries, even here in Portugal, the country next to Spain, where the language is a bit similar.
    Looks like the author of this text needed in despair to write something or is simply an ignorant in this matter which makes me feel bad and not trusting on these articles more.

  108. mariely -  February 22, 2011 - 5:55 am

    I’m Puerto Rican, and duende to us just means elf.

  109. Bruce Benefield -  February 22, 2011 - 5:09 am

    TOO EASY!!!! In simple English it’s called “soul”…

  110. Mikhail -  February 22, 2011 - 5:05 am

    In Trinidad and Tobago. A douen (which I presume comes from the same word duende due to our past Spanish Influence) is actually a small childlike creature that wears straw hats and runs around in the bushes on back-to-front feet. They were thought to be the souls of unbaptized children.

  111. Torture Prism -  February 22, 2011 - 4:16 am

    It is not so hard to believe. Several years ago, I was half way through my first novel when i decided to take a page out of J. R. R. Tolken’s book and come up with a separate language for the elves in my story. So when the commander told his archers to shoot his arrows i had to come up with something interesting. so based off the English language i came up with the word “Raless” which is based off the word “Release.” but in better translation to my story, in that certain situation it would relate close to an instructor commanding his troops to “FIRE!” because the Elves in my story would have a completely different word and phrase for something like “I release you from this world.” but it was a long drawn out thought process in order to come up with this. it is quite amusing to find that most languages are suddenly now being translated in this fashion…

  112. maile -  February 22, 2011 - 4:16 am

    Yes. After all this, I could say duende is an involuntary, feeling of awe, in reaction to an awe-inspiring piece of art or music.

  113. GWSTB -  February 22, 2011 - 4:12 am

    I often find English somewhat lacking. There’s a great word in French: Serein. It means “rain when the sun is shining.” My favorite kind of weather. There should be a word for this in every language.

    I’m not a Spanish speaker, but it sounds like “duende,” at least in the context mentioned, means something like “passion” or perhaps something like a “muse.”

  114. herzmeister der welten -  February 22, 2011 - 2:25 am

    “mojo” goes into the right direction I think. A true artist knows exactly what they’re talking about. It’s about the spark of divine inspiration, truly expressing oneself out of one’s heart.

  115. James -  February 22, 2011 - 2:24 am

    Good call amy beth! Mojo is a good translation as there is the musical connotation – mojo and the blues – duende and flamenco – both words convey something that comes from within, something spiritual.

  116. Marcos -  February 22, 2011 - 2:15 am

    Here in Brazil, “duende” has the same meaning as spanish (woodland spirit). Even though it’s used, informally, to denote a small person, too.

  117. Omar -  February 22, 2011 - 1:24 am

    after reading this… I’d translate duende using “awe”…

    full-awe that just creeps up from the depths of your being…

  118. n -  February 22, 2011 - 1:20 am

    Haha, not hard. FAIL

  119. amy beth -  February 22, 2011 - 1:20 am

    “magic” or “mojo”

  120. Holiash -  February 22, 2011 - 1:15 am

    Duende could mean in English goblin, dwarf, or even elf. But what Lorca tried to convey in his lecture is something more of a beyond superficial connotation. By which he attached emotions and feelings to the word to describe this being. Jorge Luis Borges also describes the same creature in a similar using the word “aleph” in his short essay by the name of this creature.

  121. Anonymous -  February 22, 2011 - 12:45 am

    We use duwende in Tagalog as dwarf or elf.

  122. Tish Martinez -  February 22, 2011 - 12:42 am

    It’s also interesting to note that “duende” in Filipino (which has Spanish roots) mean small dwarf-like entities. In conversation, it is often used to denote something small.


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