I have been struggling to find a word that I, at one time, had seen in my vocabulary lessons. I am trying to describe something that is "beautiful or attractive" yet also possessing "sadness or melancholy." I think this word was most commonly used in the sense of describing a lady's face, where the poignant feature was seen as "beautifully sad."

I might say "the damsel's face showed lines of worry and stress, and her eyes dripped a touch. Her tousled hair and reddened skin made her a 'pathetic and beautiful' mess."

As much I try searching for this word, "pathetic" is the closest I've come to finding it. This word could be a borrowed one and potentially naturalized.

  • 3
    We millennials would call that "emo", though I am to believe that's not the kind of locution you're looking for.
    – undercat
    Feb 25, 2019 at 12:30
  • Did a thesaurus suggest anything that combines both of those?
    – Mitch
    Feb 25, 2019 at 13:44
  • I haven’t found any entry of a thesaurus that combines both of these words yet. Feb 26, 2019 at 13:14
  • Shouldn't it be 'melancholic'?
    – Ram Pillai
    Nov 23, 2019 at 7:30
  • My goodness,can we lose the damsel? Are you writing a book about the Middle Ages? pathetically beautiful disarray //disarray of pathos and beauty//beauty marred by disarray. etc. etc. You also might want to reconsider "her eyes dripped a touch" and "reddened skin". Try: glistening skin....dripping eyes and red skin are not exactly attractive features....
    – Lambie
    Sep 13, 2020 at 15:15

6 Answers 6


Melancholy itself can describe this. Sadness alone tends to imbue a sense of forlorn or general unhappiness. Melancholy often rings with a sense of beauty or serenity in the face of sadness.

In Russian, Тоска (Toska) describes this in a way. It's a very multifaceted and variant sadness that is often wrought with beauty.

Your initial "pathetic and beautiful mess" is actually really good, assuming that folk read pathetic literally rather than commonly. I can definitely envision that.


Could the word you're looking for be wistfulness? I've actually been looking for the same word recently. Poignant is another one I saw recently.


"mess" pretty much deflates all lofty sentiment there. When the cat barfs on the kitchen floor it's a "mess", and when a car drives through a puddle and splashes your suit you're a "mess". I suppose you could call the "damsel" a forlorn mess.

The word forlorn can mean sad, in a pitiful way. A knight could ride up to your damsel-in-distress and ask:

Why so forlorn, lady?


What about solemn:

  1. characterized or marked by seriousness or sincerity: a solemn vow.
  2. characterized by pomp, ceremony, or formality
  3. serious, glum, or pompous
  4. inspiring awe: a solemn occasion.
  5. (Ecclesiastical Terms) performed with religious ceremony
  6. gloomy or sombre: solemn colours.

Or pensive:

  1. deeply or seriously thoughtful, often with a tinge of sadness
  • Pensive is a lovely choice. It would have to be given context for it to work well within a sentence, but it could work for my means. However, pensive is not the word that I am searching for. With the phrase “a pensive expression” there is no indication of beauty. Feb 26, 2019 at 13:21

The two salient descriptions you want to address (beauty and sadness) would seem to be in conflict, and there are many descriptive words for each. You might choose the words "paradox" or "enigmatic" in context to describe the two conflicting ideas. There would seem to be many possibilities using these words or something similar.

"the damsel's face showed lines of worry and stress, and her eyes dripped a touch. Her tousled hair and reddened skin made her a 'paradox of beauty'."


"the damsel's face showed lines of worry and stress, and her eyes dripped a touch. Her tousled hair and reddened skin framed her in a certain 'enigmatic beauty'."



  • Okay! I see how the words can be in conflict. I’m thinking the word was used in a much more poetic sense. I feel like the definitions you’ve given make me think of an “unknown” or “puzzling” beauty than something comparing beauty and melancholy. How would your words avoid that connotation? Feb 26, 2019 at 13:12
  • Oh sorry, I've not much more to offer. I have looked up several words - dolefulness and sonder and grace - for example. Each (poetic) word that I have wondered about is distinctly exclusive of the of the opposing qualities of sadness and/or beauty. The best that I found was "haunting" and "poignant". Best of success though. thefreedictionary.com/poignant
    – user22542
    Feb 26, 2019 at 14:05
  • One last thought - "evocative" covers all of the mixed emotions that your descriptive "she" engenders.
    – user22542
    Feb 26, 2019 at 14:12


Means a state of ongoing sadness.

And being French in origin, and pretty sounding, might do the job for your damsel.

How about:

the damsel's face showed lines of worry and stress, and her eyes dripped a touch. Her messed-up hair and reddened skin made her a tousled portrait of tristesse.


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