Each language has a few words that cannot easily be translated, and the Danish language is no exception. Danish is in general not as colorful and full of nuances as English. I often find when translating from English to Danish that some of the emotions are “lost in translation” simply because Danish does not have the equivalent word or expression. However, there is one word that can simply be deemed as the “white elephant” of the Danish language. People, who may otherwise not speak Danish oftentimes know the word, simply from hearing about Danish culture. The word is “hygge” and is pronounced like [hue-gah]. This one word is the epitome of the Danish culture – and it is the reason (or one of them) why Danes are the happiest people in the world!
“Hygge” is used to describe something cozy and comfortable. It is a state of mind as much as it is an experience. “Hygge” sums up the mood and ambiance of a situation. Oftentimes “hygge” is experienced during the cold Danish winter evenings when candles are lit on the coffee table, a good movie is on the TV and you are cuddled on the couch next to your loved one. “Hygge” is the feeling you get during the holidays when your house is full of family, traditions and all the right ingredients to make memories that last a life time. “Hygge” is going for a walk on a warm summer day, stopping by the ice cream shop by the fjord to get a homemade cone while you watch the big sailboats.
The German word “Gemütlichkeit” is almost comparable to “hygge”, as is “coziness” in English. However, using either of those words when translating a situation that is “hyggelig” is ultimately cheating the reader out of the full experience. It is like painting a rainbow using only two colors. “Hygge” is an all-encompassing word for the Danish culture and Danish design. Many of the products made in Denmark are geared towards creating the feeling of “hygge” in the home, office or where ever you share special time with friends and loved ones. You almost have to experience Denmark and Danish culture in person to truly embrace and appreciate the intricacies of this one word: “hygge”.
When I encounter the word “hygge” in a translation piece, I immediately think of the mood, the tone and the ambiance of the situation I am trying to describe. I then know that my most creative and colorful word-smithing abilities will be put to the test. “Hygge” was never meant to be translated. It was meant to be felt.
My husband is Dutch and they have a word (not sure of the spelling – hezelek) that means the same thing and it’s as you describe it, difficult to explain but more of a feeling of comfort, relaxing…
Mama in the Now says
That’s very interesting. It is a feeling of comfort – great description!