What We Talk About When We Talk About “Appocundria”

Every language has some words which are either very hard to translate or just helplessly untranslatable into one single word. There are many adorable and cute threads going around about this topic, like this one on Bored Panda or this on Tought Catalog. I honestly don’t know why the majority of these words are German or Japanese but you can bump into some Italian words as well like “gattara” (a woman who devotes herself to stray cats) or “culaccino” (the mark left on a table by a moist glass).

culaccinoActually meaning n.1 is “the end part of salami, bread and sausages” and that’s how I’ve always used it but, hey, one never stops learning.

Be that as it may, there are some Neapolitan words that are un-translatable even into Italian. For example, “appocundria” is a Neapolitan word that has recently become a new entry in the Italian Encyclopedia Treccani. But what does it mean? How do we feel when we feel we “have the appocundria“?

Similar to “saudade” but not so quite.

The sound of the word “appocundria” is related to the Italian “ipocondria” (hypochondria) but it has nothing to do with an excessive worry about one’s own health. Appocundria is more of a state of deep melancholy paired with some sort of fatalistic acceptance of life. But it’s also something more than that because you are both subjected to and wallow in it at the same time. It’s not just melancholy: it can also be a mix of solitudine, nostalgia and dissatisfaction.

Having the appocundria doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in an existential crisis. Take this scenario for example: winter, late Sunday afternoon, it’s raining outside and all the fun of the weekend is gone. A new week is well ahead of you, you can see it but just prefer to bask in this moment of stasis remembering the feeling of freedom you felt on Saturday. You’re certainly not happy but neither truly sad: you are more apathetic, indolent and nostalgic of the things that were and that are not anymore and will never be again. However, you don’t act. You just stay in this moment and wait for it to go away rather than do something about it.

As you can see, it’s very difficult to convey this word’s meaning into words. Some have compared it to the portoguese “saudade” or “the love that remains“, another state of nostalgic or melancholic longing for something or someone that you love and that might never come back. However, the appocundria is not much about love but more about forced inaction for which one either feels nothing can be done or is unwilling to really do something about it.


Next stop of this bus called life: Saudade, the saddest stop of all.

Is it really untranslatable?

Trying to answer this question can lead us towards a slippery slope. We could say that the feeling this word describes is typically Neapolitan, but then we’ll have to argue convincingly about a supposed innante “essence” of the people born and raised in Naples that somewhat mark them differently. Everytime one tries to tackle this kind of problems it’s quite easy to fall into the “trap” of turning real people into stereotypes.

So maybe, even when one word is not easily accessible into another language, we can grasp its meaning via different means of communication without referring to the culture it belongs to. In the case of appocundria the means is music. Pino Daniele, the Neapolitan singer-songwriter and guitarist who has suddenly passed away last year, has the merit to have put the feeling of appocundria into a song named, indeed, “Appocundria“. Despite the fact that the lyrics are in Neapolitan, one can feel, thanks to its blues-like music and to his particular way of singing, the sense of strong dissatisfaction and immobility typical of someone who is affected by appocundria.

The universality of music can make people understand even untranslatable feelings and states of mind. The word may be Neapolitan but what it wants to convey is deeply human and, for this reason, very relatable to everyone of us.

Here are the lyrics and their translation:

Appocundria me scoppia         (Appocundria bursts every minute in my chest)
Ogne minuto ‘mpietto
Peccè passanno forte                (because passing through it has dismantled the bed)
Haje sconcecato ‘o lietto
Appocundria ‘e chi è sazio         (Appocundria of who’s sated and says that’s without food)
E dice ca è diuno
Appocundria ‘e nisciuno             (Appocundria of nobody, appocundria of nobody.)
…Appocundria ‘e nisciuno.

Have you ever felt that you had the appocundria? Is there a word in English that has a similar meaning? Tell us in the comment section!

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