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I have read that duende can mean both a mythical creature or, metaphorically, a kind of magical sensation to something. What exactly does duende refer to in both senses? How would both of these senses be best translated to English?

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As you said, Duende has two basic meanings:

  • Mythical Creature Traditionally it refers to a mischievous spirit that inhabits a house. Now it's also used to refer to small creatures with magical powers; they usually are very skinny, have big heads, big eyes and long ears (also, Santa's Helpers are called "Duendes de Santa Claus").

  • Feeling It's almost exclusively used in Flamenco. It's a mysterious sensation that is very hard to define. More here.

Over all, it's a very complex word, it has a lot of history, and can be used in several sentences, and mean something different in each one, but it's always something special.

From the RAE and Wikipedia

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    +1 Now I know that duende was also used to signify a feeling. Until now, I had never heard the word used in a different context other than the mythical creature.
    – Icarus
    Dec 30 '11 at 15:24
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There are several words that can work as a translation for duende:

They may not be an "exact" translation, as the folklore in each region is different and the characteristics of these mythological beings can vary slightly.

For the second meaning, I found "to have charm" as a possible English translation for "tener duende".

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