Written by George Grant on April 9, 2018
Every year new words and phrases find their way into our vocabulary. Sometimes these neologisms are the result of political turns of events, like Brexit, alt-right, or newsjacking. Sometimes it is technology and digital media that introduce new words like hashtag, emoji, or listicle. Other times, it is trends in pop culture that manufactures new expressions like word-salad, adulting, or broflake. Some neologisms are essentially street slang like clapback, photo-bomb, or fleek.
Among the most interesting additions to our arsenal of words in the last few years have come to us from northern Europe. Words like the Dutch gezelligheid [ɣəˈzɛləxɛit], the Danish hygge [hoo-ɡə], and the Swedish lagom [lə-gom], have not only become commonplace, but together they have spawned a mini-lifestyle industry. There are books, videos, websites, blogs, and conferences devoted to the ideas behind the words.
Gezelligheid [ɣəˈzɛləxɛit] is a Dutch word that connotes a full heart. Depending on context, it can be translated as: “cozy, convivial, or fun.” But, it can also describe a “sense of wellbeing, belonging,” or even “time spent with friends and loved ones.” It conveys the blessing of togetherness and connectedness. In English, it is often used interchangeably as an adjective, a noun, or a verb. It can even be used as an exclamation—as an expression of joy or delight.
The Danish word hygge [hoo-ɡə] was on the shortlist of the Oxford Dictionary’s “word of the year” last year. Though there is no direct translation for the word into English, “cozy” comes close. It is derived from a old Viking term, meaning “to comfort” or “to console.” It is actually related to our English word “hug.” Hygge [hoo-ɡə], is associated with relaxation, indulgence, and gratitude, and has long been considered a part of the Danish national character. At least six books about hygge [hoo-ɡə], were published in the US this past year, with more to come. According to The Year of Living Danishly, Hygge means “taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things,” like curling up in a comfortable chair under a soft blanket, shoes kicked off, with a fat book and a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
This vision of simple pleasure harmonizes with the related Swedish concept, lagom [lə-gom], which refers to a kind of moderation—not too little, not too much, just right.
Now, I have to admit that these neologisms are far more delightful to contemplate than, say, selfie, vaping, or cushty. Even so, I can’t quite imagine working hygge [hoo-ɡə] or gezelligheid [ɣəˈzɛləxɛit] into an everyday conversation. But, I think I will curl up in my favorite chair, a book in one hand, and a steaming cup of coffee in the other—not too much, not too little, just right.