I am trying to figure out what is the right word related to forgetting in this quote by Blasco Ibáñez:

Tenemos dos fuerzas que nos ayudan a vivir: el olvido y la esperanza.

which translated in English would be as below (that is how someone posted it via Reddit here and how Google Translate translates it):

We have two forces that help us to live: oblivion and hope.

However, I am wondering if oblivion is the right word. This question is not so much about translating olvido from Spanish ot English, but finding the right English word.

Olvidar means to forget and olvido is the noun referring to the fact that memories fade away.

I am unsure about the English term (one word) that would fit here: oblivion, forgetfulness or simply forgetting?

Since I have never used oblivion before, I looked it in the dictionary and its very definition is quite powerful for this context:

the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening around one

I would use forgetting and hope instead, but would it be correct? What about forgetfulness?

Is there a better term for the fact that we, as humans, forget memories (such as sufferings, happy moments etc)?

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    You need to tell us what olvido actually means — how it is used in example sentences translated into English. This is poetry or the like — some sort of paradox — so knowing no Spanish we cannot deduce what the writer intends. Oblivion as in "death"? Or forgetting (weak in English, and forgetfulness is unlikely to sound other than trite) in the sense that bitter memories fade?
    – David
    Apr 5, 2022 at 15:51
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    @David Olvidar means to forget. Olvido is the substantive, but Google Translate translates it as oblivion which is a word I have never used before... Apr 5, 2022 at 15:55
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    I can't see 'forgetfulness' as being in any way relevant to a proverb about coping wth life's hardships. I can't find the source of quote, but I could see it as something said by a person in a desperate situation. 'Oblivion' has the necessary punch, if it's about the struggle to survive: more than say passing an exam, or getting the shopping done. Apr 5, 2022 at 16:34
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    Grrrgh to google translate botches. It's forgetting. Note to other participants: the other language sites are not for translation into English. They are for translation into another language. However, only the French site is strict about this, afaik.
    – Lambie
    Apr 5, 2022 at 16:59
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    Right. You can go with forgetting. Forgetfulness is for your grandmother as she ages and doesn't remember everything right away. :)
    – Lambie
    Apr 5, 2022 at 17:03

5 Answers 5


Oblivion might work, as long as the connotations line up with the Spanish olvidar in a way that satisfies your sensibilities as a translator. Otherwise, forgetting is laden with fewer negative connotations and may be a suitable literal term.


The issue with oblivion in English is that some of its meanings have negative connotations. For instance, the Oxford English Dictionary defines oblivion definition 1a and 1b as:

1a. The state or fact of forgetting or having forgotten; forgetfulness; (also) freedom from care or worry.

1b. Forgetfulness resulting from inattention or carelessness; heedlessness, disregard.

1b poses a problem. Oblivion can be seen as a kind of carelessness or inattention, which goes beyond memories fading with time. That is not to mention the destructive connotation:

2a. The state or condition of being forgotten; (also, more generally) obscurity, nothingness, void, death.

The idea of falling into oblivion, that is, dying or being entirely forgot, is a part of the word. So you would want to make sure that olvidar has similar connotations or that you're okay with your translation having that be a possible reading.

Other possibilities

Forgetfulness runs into a similar issue that oblivion did; it may suggest a negative mental capacity or a negative moral quality (see definition 1b above). In my experience, that sense is even stronger with forgetfulness than with oblivion. Definition 4 of the word gives a particularly strong example:

  1. Disregard, inattention, neglect.

1757 S. Johnson Rambler No. 180. ⁋5 He..naturally sinks from omission to forgetfulness of social duties.

For that reason, I would suggest avoiding it.

Forgetting is an attractive word to use in this context. It is close to the verb and hence closer to the basic sense to forget, with fewer negative connotations. It also has precedent in William Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;

The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting

And cometh from afar [...]

So poetry can combine forms that might be odd in other contexts: "a sleep and a forgetting" or "forgetting and hope."

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    If going with the option of "forgetting", I'd go with "We have two forces that help us to live: hoping, and forgetting." for the parallel structure. Maybe not "forces", but I don't know what word would fit there better now. Apr 6, 2022 at 2:19
  • I think a better translation of olvido is obliviousness. What are your thoughts on that vis-a-vis oblivion?
    – mcalex
    Apr 6, 2022 at 7:05
  • @mcalex In English, "obliviousness" means "not noticing something that's there" rather than "forgetting something", so it doesn't fit the statement as I understand it. Apr 6, 2022 at 20:59
  • There's somewhat of a wilful connotation to it, however - seeing and choosing to not notice. Arguably instant forgetting.
    – mcalex
    Apr 7, 2022 at 0:44
  • 'oblivion' is a very strong negative, and is rarer than the other two, and is a much more academic word than the others. It means a total eradication from everyone's memory. It is often associated with total destruction or annihilation, to the extent that no one remembers the thing destroyed any more.
  • 'forgetting' is a past participle or gerund, so it is very verb like. It is not common as a gerund (noun). Note that it doesn't have its own dictionary entry, coming under 'forget', but can still stand alone as the abstract noun for 'the process of losing memories'.
  • 'forgetfulness' is half suffixes, is common, and often taken to be a symptom of old-age or a deficiency.

'Oblivion' is not recommended even if it is the accepted translation of 'el olvido', since 'oblivion' is so extreme in English. Is 'totally forgetting everything about something' really a 'force that helps us live'? That seems a little weird to pair with hope and also you don't often think of oblivion (total loss of a memories of a thing) to be a positive. Maybe just the ability to forget little would be enough.

So in a pair along with 'hope', the most parallel would be 'forgetfulness', but 'forgetting' may also be appropriate since its association is just the process and not a slightly negative

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    I associate "oblivion" with forgetting even one's self, becoming completely lost. For me, it's connected with death-sans-afterlife, lobotomies, drug use, and other unhealthy ways of making bad memories not relevant to your present situation.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 5, 2022 at 19:15

I take the quote to mean that what drives us forward in life, is both the promise of something better (hope), and the forgetting of suffering and other evidence to the contrary.
In that last sense it feels slightly analogous to the proverb "ignorance is bliss", but ignorance doesn't seem to come close to the intended meaning of Blasco Ibáñez.

I think of the three forgetting is the best option:

  • Forgetfulness implies a more active loss of memory. It is only really used when someone has a relatively higher tendency to forget things.

  • Oblivion is a state of being completely forgotten. It is what has happened to most people throughout our history (and, necessarily, before that), so certainly not an impetus to live.

  • Forgetting comes closest, and, although it might not be sufficiently precise as anything can be forgotten, for the sake of lucidity (of the aphorism) this seems the best option.


Between your three options, I would rank them forgetting best, oblivion worst. If you're willing to use a phrase rather than single word, you could say "impermanence of memory" or "imperfect memory". There's also "amnesia", but that implies a state of being more forgetful than normal, and this saying seems to be saying that normal human forgetfulness is helpful.

  • +1 for "amnesia", which while not literally correct would probably be interpreted correctly in a poetic context like this one. Apr 6, 2022 at 15:56

Well, oblivion is a state, forgetfulness is a personal rather than universal property and forgetting is an action. Neither work very well as a force. I find that I fail to come up with a good single term, so in the course of making a viable literary dichotomy, I'd use "We have two forces helping us survive: weakness of memory and strength of hope."

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