Poor Unfortunate Words

Dear Reader,

Do you have a favorite word? Might it be something beautiful like “cerulean,” something esoteric like “troglodyte,” or maybe just something amusing such as “kerfuffle”? One word that I particularly enjoy is “unfortunately.” This is an odd choice; I know. The reason that I find this word oh-so pleasing is not for its meaning or how it sounds, rather for the way that it is translated across the languages that I study.

When you break down the word “unfortunately,” you get a few distinct components:

  • Un- The prefix “un-” meaning the absence of something
  • Fortunate- The stem “-fortuna-” coming from the Latin word, meaning “good luck”
  • Ly- The ending “-ly” a signifier of adverbs

So, literally, “unfortunately,” means “the state of being in the absence of good luck.” That’s deep.

In different points in my life, I have also studied French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish and I have found this word to translate somewhat curiously across languages.

French Malheureusement

(pronounced: mal-ur-ruse-mon)

Unlike in English, the French “malheureusement” loses the connotation of “good luck” and instead relates more closely to a certain “wrongness” or “unhappiness.” 

  • Mal- means “bad/ wrong”
  • -heureuse- means “happy”
  • -ment is the French adverbial ending like “-ly” is in English
Salzburg, Austria

German — Leider*

(pronounced: Líe-der [like the English word meaning to not tell the truth])

The word in German is unsurprisingly direct and to the point.

  • Leid- has unpleasant connotations and relates to “suffering”

*German also has the word “unglücklicherweise” which also means “unfortunately.” This word is packed with meaning. The word “glück” in German relates closely to both the words “happiness” and “good luck.”

Portuguese — Infelizmente

(pronounced: in-fel-eese-mén-chi)

The Portuguese word “infelizmente” is not an exact translation of any other word on this list. Instead, the word shares the English/ Spanish prefixes and suffixes with the French stem.  

  • -feliz- means “happy” and comes from the Latin word “felix” (which happens to have the dual connotation of “happiness” AND “luck” — who knew!)
  • -mente is the adverbial ending
St. Petersburg, Russia

Russian К сожалению / К несчастью

(pronounced: kuh-sa-zhe-lén-ee-yoo / kuh-nee-shás-tyoo)

Leave it to Russian to overcomplicate things. The first word is used for everyday unfortunate events, like “unfortunately, I missed the bus.” The second word, is more serious, like “unfortunately, your loved one perished in the Great Patriotic War.”

  • К сожалению — has a meaning close to “regrettably”
  • К несчастью — has a meaning closer to “bad luck” (in an adverbial form)
Toledo, Spain

Spanish — Desafortunadamente

(pronounced: des-a-for-tu-ná-da-men-tay)

Just like in English, “desafortunadamente,” breaks down to literally mean “the state of being in the absence of good luck,” which makes this translation 100% spot on!

  • Des- means “un-”
  • -fortunada- means “fortunate”
  • -mente is the adverbial ending

If you’re a word nerd like me, I hope you enjoyed the above. Do you know any other curious forms of the word “unfortunately?” Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!



P.S. Check out more curious words here.

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