Les Intraduisibles : spleen

Given the etymology of “spleen”, it is likely that many of you will never have encountered this term! The word was coined in the 19th century by French writer, Charles Baudelaire who used it in several of his poems from his collection ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’.

Baudelaire used the term “spleen” to describe a kind of melancholy, profound boredom and overall dissatisfaction, often stemming from the tragedy of life.

Baudelaire adopted the term from the English anatomical word, “spleen”, which is related to Hippocrates’ theory of moods shifts stemming from bodily humours. According to Hippocrates, the human spleen excretes a fluid known as black bile which, produced in excess, triggers melancholy, the extreme form of depression. Although this theory has long since been disproved, Baudelaire used the term as a central metaphor of his.

You may be more familiar with its French synonym, “l’ennui”, that the English language has adopted. “L’ennui” has a similar meaning to Baudelaire’s term since it describes a type of apathetic, lethargic boredom.

Baudelaire a inventé le terme, le spleen, il y a près de 200 ans.
Baudelaire coined the term, the spleen, nearly 200 years ago.

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charles baudelaire