Hygge, Danish for cozy, comfort, community, warmth and so much more
April 24, 2014 9:51 AM   Subscribe

"Hygge" is a Danish word often associated with being cozy in winter, with candles, family and friends, but even if Christmas is the high hygge season, there is hygge in warmer months, too. Pronounced "hoo-gah" or "hYOOguh" or something like that, it may be as hard for non-Danes to pronounce as it is to define, but one thing is for sure: money can't buy you hygge (an academic article on Danish middle-class consumption, egalitarianism, and the sanctity of inner space, by Jeppe Trolle Linnet).
posted by filthy light thief (23 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
For the record, I really wanted to title this post "gettin' hygge wit' it," but declined to do so.

This post was made after reading this article from a non-Dane, which I didn't link in the OP because it's a persons impressions after a short time in Denmark, but the pictures are nice and cozy, so there's that.

There hasn't been a post on hygge before, but it has been discussed from time to time, often in the context of "words for which there is no easy translation."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

money can't buy you hygge

And here we see why the Beatles so quickly and so utterly overshadowed the Danish band they originally formed in imitation of, the The Billes.
posted by Naberius at 9:55 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there an etymological connection to the English word "hug"? Because the sounds and meanings overlap noticeably.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:03 AM on April 24, 2014

How gezellig.
posted by Omon Ra at 10:11 AM on April 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

posted by Nelson at 10:23 AM on April 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's definitely not pronounced "hoo-gah".
posted by WalkingAround at 10:30 AM on April 24, 2014

Not the same, but also nice, the Greek word κέφι ("kefi"), which, to me, is the feeling of being infused with joy of living – either generally or specifically ... like, generally, just a feeling of being aware of and part of something gorgeous, wonderful, satisfying, or beautiful in the world in the moment, or specifically, this group of friends, this food and setting, this bonhomie, this fleeting but precious experience.
posted by taz at 10:32 AM on April 24, 2014 [6 favorites]

I am ordering a fuckton of hygge from Amazon this afternoon.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:39 AM on April 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Personally, I prefer the Finnish Sisu to hygge.
posted by WalkingAround at 10:47 AM on April 24, 2014

A slightly related Danish (and really pan-northern European, just like hygge and its gezellig relative) word: Janteloven
posted by anateus at 11:09 AM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Typing hygge into Wikipedia redirects to Gemütlichkeit, which lists many translations of the same, not-remotely-unique concept.

It's definitely not pronounced "hoo-gah".

Somebody should tell the Danish tourism board.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:45 AM on April 24, 2014

WalkingAround: "It's definitely not pronounced "hoo-gah"."

Yeah, everyone knows that's Swedish.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I guess that explains the name of a bakery that is far too close to my office.
posted by mogget at 12:31 PM on April 24, 2014

The Norwegian equivalent: Kos.
posted by sidra at 1:39 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, I think I have it worked out in my head, but still, I eagerly await PhysicsMatt's post that explains how the Hygges Boson works.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 1:52 PM on April 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

If we ever had twins, we were going for 'koselig' and 'hyggelig'. I can't say those words (well OK, my Norwegian in-laws can't say them) without me being overcome with affection.
posted by drowsy at 6:47 PM on April 24, 2014

It's traditional, upon meeting a dane with whom you spent time, to thank them for the get-together you had last. "Tak for sidste!" (pronounced just like it looks, except the d isn't really voiced, and the e is silent ;) ). Frequently, if the occasion was particularly pleasant, it was followed by: Det var hyggelig (also pronounced like it looks, only the t isn't voiced and hyggelig is unpronounceable by anyone except danes). Denmark is pretty much the best place on the planet.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 9:19 PM on April 24, 2014

The Norwegian equivalent: Kos.

Every Norwegian I've met uses the word hygge, though? I was under the impression that koselig was a related and similar, but different concept. I mean, I certainly understand subtly different things by "han er en hyggelig fyr" and "han er en koselig gutt"...

anateus: A slightly related Danish (and really pan-northern European, just like hygge and its gezellig relative) word: Janteloven

While there are certainly elements of Janteloven that apply across Scandinavia, and a smaller set of elements that apply across Northern Europe, Janteloven applies much more strictly to Denmark than anywhere else (to the point where my Norwegian friends have a slightly different understanding of the term to myself and my Danish friends/family). Where I come from is just down the road (or a short hop on the fjord) from Nykøbing Mors, which was the town Sandemose lightly fictionalised as Jante. In rural Jylland, you definitely get a much more pervasive Jantelov in greater degree than in, for example Copenhagen, and in Copenhagen it is more pronounced than in the rest of Scandinavia, for example.

I made a comment on MeTa which illustrates the differences between the degree of Jantelov in Denmark and Norway:

I was in Oslo with my then-housemate and friend, visiting her parents. On a night out about town, we got talking to various people at various times. They would ask what we did. We would say that we were at university in the UK (as indeed we were) and most everyone responded with something that can be boiled down to "oh wow, that's really exciting! must be great to get out and see the world, good on you for doing so!" whereas that same summer, when we were in Denmark, the same questions and answer got a very cold, sneering "oh. why would you do that?" response. Like, a 'what, our universities aren't good enough for you? assholes' sort of thing.

I went to Roskilde Festival for five years, while I was living here in the UK. Each year after the first I just told everyone I was English, because then it was oh cool, exotic tourist type, let's talk to them! rather than oh, fucking thinks-they're-better-than-us emigrée traitor over there. It made all my social interactions that much more positive.

Barry B. Palindromer, it's actually "tak for sidst!" - there is no silent e at the end, as indeed there rarely if ever is in Danish. 'Sidste' as a word has a very much pronounced e at the end, and is a grammatical contortion of the same word used in different contexts. (I never studied Danish at school - third culture kid here - so I don't have any formal understanding of the grammar to explain better than that, I'm afraid!)
posted by Dysk at 3:12 AM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Regarding the jantelov: most Danes would have serious trouble naming the persons on the top-20 list of the richest Danes. They would be able to mention the Maersk family and the Lego family, but apart from those, probably none. You keep your head down if you're rich. Don't think you're better than anybody else, in fact by being rich you're expected to be morally corrupted and thus should refrain from saying anything, your existence is barely tolerated. We would much rather listen to the average Dane, thank you very much.
posted by flif at 6:01 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

And at the same time we have people who complain about the existence of monarchy (which wields no actual power), but do not address the real power wielded by, say, the Mærsk family. Heck, there are probably more people outraged about how the Norwegians Got Our Oil (urban legend, btw) than how Mærsk got a very lucrative deal on what oil we had.

The Jantelov is often portrayed negatively (and some parts of it is certainly ugly), but the lack of adoration for riches, power, and status is not one of them.

(I suppose a MetaFilter translation of Janteloven would be "you're not a special snowflake").
posted by bouvin at 8:02 AM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the joys of learning a new language is the discovery of words that can not really be translated.

In Norwegian, 'hyggelig' and 'koselig' are not quite the same (like 'push' and 'shove', there are always fine subtleties in meaning). 'Hyggelig' is a bit like 'pleasant', but 'koselig' (and the reflexive verb equivalent 'å kose seg') has a meaning that is not always easy to explain.

When I say 'shove', you don't just think 'push', it's more like 'a push with a slightly malicious/humorous intent'. If you are a native speaker, you know what I mean when I say it, but it's not so easy to explain to others.

The same is true of 'kos'. I lived in Norway for many years, and while I understand the meaning of 'kos', 'koselig', and 'nå koser vi oss', I also know in a bittersweet way that I will never fully understand the subtleties and depth.

(You know the feeling after you've spent a day doing physical exercise in the cold, like skiing, and you finally get back to a warm cabin with hot drink or soup and you still feel the lingering effects of the cold, but have started to feel warm, and you're around a group of people you consider friends and family and are looking forward to the evening ahead with them? - that's 'koselig'.)
posted by grajohnt at 7:18 AM on April 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

...and I could write a multi-page discourse on the positives, negatives, and hypocrisies of Janteloven in Norway. As bouvin says, part of this social contract is that there are a few very powerful well-connected wealthy families, but as long as they don't wave their wealth/power/influence in your face, you can pretend that they don't wield it. The problem is those that fool themselves into believing that this is fact, and not a convenient fiction.

(Janteloven manifests itself profoundly in sport, one of the few outlets where one is allowed to succeed, but still constrained by Janteloven outside of the sport. Compare and contrast Ole Einar Bjørndalen with Petter Northug, as an example.)
posted by grajohnt at 7:30 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

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