That ONE Scandinavian word you can`t really translate

I`s not just one word – it`s both a noun and a verb. In Norway it`s koselig (noun) and kose (verb), in Denmark hyggelig (noun) and hygge (verb) and I believe the Swedish words for it is mysigt (noun) and mys (verb).

So what is koselig/hyggelig/mysigt? What is that word that can`t be translated and which isn`t even the same word in the three Scandinavian countries? What is that word that defines us so much but which we can`t bring with us when we go abroad? We only pine for it when we`re somewhere else.

Some people would translate it into cosy, but that`s just wrong. A bed can be cosy but it doesn`t explain what koselig/hyggelig/mysigt is. So I`ll try with a picture:

This family here is using that one Scandinavian word you can`t really translate. When the autumn and winter gets darker (it`s pretty dark here already) and it`s cold outside, you make a fire in the fireplace, light up a lot of candles, make something hot to drink and possibly some cake or some waffles and then you just enjoy yourself. With your family and/or your friends.

You know immediately when you are having this cozy time. You can come into your friends` livingroom and you will immediate say…

“neimen, så koselig” (Norwegian)

“Nej, hvor hyggeligt” (Danish)

“Näh, hva mysigt” (my rotten version of Swedish)

… which basically means that you think looks cozy. It`s ingrained in us – we seek this atmosphere of kos/hygge/mysigt, especially in the winter. You don`t quarrel or discuss politics. It`s a time for just enjoying yourself in the company of other people.

A way to survive winter

I`m sure a lot of you have wondered how we Scandinavians survive our dark and cold winters. Why aren`t we sinking into deep depression from October till April? I`m fairly sure it`s because of the kos/hygge/mys. We seek each other`s company and we create our little warm heaven where we enjoy ourselves. That way winter is absolutely tolerable!

So if you want to feel a little Scandinavian tonight, close your curtains (you don`t want the sun to ruin everything), make some gløgg (cocoa or coffee will do – red wine too), invite friends/family and light as many candles you can – the fireplace too if you have one. Talk about nice topics only and feel the calmness enter your body.

Nice, right?


34 responses to “That ONE Scandinavian word you can`t really translate

  • fffbone

    Can I come to your house to feel this warm feeling and togetherness.

    We have that too at times. We did when I was growing up. Not to much of it lately. Plus now I would need a fireplace.

    • thyra10

      You`re welcome anytime. I just filled up with firewood and I have a drawer full of candles so I`m covered 😀

      We have a fireplace that sucks as much cold air in as it warms the livingroom. We still use it quite a lot in the winter just for the “kos” of it.

  • fffbone

    Also I hate the cold & darkness. I hibernate.
    I would guess your brought up with it being so dark and cold your whole lives. So it would be nothing different for you. it’s the way things are.

    • thyra10

      I love winter. Especially when the snow is there because it lights up everything. Summer is unpredictable here and I just hate not knowing if the sun will turn into rain during the day. In the winter you know it`s cold and dark every day for three months – at least.

  • Anaman

    Amen to that!
    Det er jo virkelig koselig å bare sitte ved peisen med te og eplekake 🙂

  • kittyinaz

    Reblogged this on Kittyinaz and commented:
    I love Thyra10. She is one of the authors I found then I have the honor of her following my blog and story. I use her blogs for information and this one is nothing less.

  • Alison Griffiths

    I’m liking niemen, sa koselig, I always want to hibernate when the weather turns. I find the similarities and the differences between the Scandinavian languages fascinating. I used to love our chats with Linda on twitter, even though I couldn’t keep up 🙂

    I’m really enjoying this blog. Thank you,

  • juneeboy

    Read a few posts now… and you should probably stop dragging sweden into the mix. The simple reason behind this is that you have very little knowledge of swedish language, tradition and custom. For example this article. “Mysigt” DOES translate into “cosy”. It does not translate into “koselig”. Its close… but your assumption is very incorrect. (The one swedish word that would be impossible to translate is “lagom”, which is close to “just the right amount” in english.)

    • thyra10

      Noooo, I couldn`t do that to the Swedes (leave them out, I mean) 😉

      But you`re quite correct. As a Dane living in Norway I know way more about Denmark and Norway – and especially Danish and Norwegian – than I do about Sweden and Swedish. I used to live in Sweden but that was back in 1998, which is a few years back 😀

      Lagom is the same as “sånn passe” in Norwegian. It really fits the Scandinavian spirit of Jantelov and a flat structure. I like it 😀

  • goteampencil

    Reblogged this on goteampencil and commented:

  • Andy

    I love the winter too. Though you say the word itself is difficult to translate, you give a good sense of the ‘feeling’. This year we have had no snow in my part of the UK (much disappointed) but when it comes next year, I will remember 🙂

  • anonymous

    Leave the Swedish out and get the Dutch in! We have the same word in Dutch: gezellig = koselig

    • thyra10

      Netherlands really is the fourth Scandinavian country, right? 🙂

      • Juan

        hello! im fascinated about your posts!!! i was last weeks wondering about going for a while to norway some day. Im spaniard living in austria, and for koselig in german you would have gemütlich, but not in 100% of the cases.. gemütlich is for more things as well, but koselig passes perfect als “sub-group” of gemütlich.

        In spanish we have acogedor, but it doesnt included that winter thing and the whole situation. But acogedor is that souly warm welcoming situation.. so our acogedor its only a part of koselig, and koselig a part of gemütlich :D…

        so lest choose depending on the situation! finer or more general! hehe.. great blog yours!

  • Snorre

    They (I am danish myself) have a similar word in Dutch: Gezelligheit (pronounced with “HRRR” instead of the “g”s). They told me, when I lived there, that “there is this Dutch words which is not in any other language…” Well guess what…

  • anna

    hmm we icelanders also got the same word huggulegt = hyggeligt

  • JP

    “gezellig” in Dutch. I’d say it is pretty close to “cosy” though.

  • Math Campbell

    There’s a Scots Gaelic word that’s not used so much any more (although I’m in the lowlands, so maybe they use it up north in the islands and highlands!), còsagach. It’s where the english word “cozy” comes from, and given that Scotland can indeed lay claim to being a Nordic country (especially the Hebrides & Shetlands), I’d imagine it descends from the Old Norse in the same way the Icelandic & Norse does…

    It’s truly embodied in Scots culture though, that same feeling of “urgh, winter’s cold, lets get some drinks in, a fire, some music, have a ceilidh etc”….seen more nowadays in a country pub, especially up north. The majority of inns in the Highlands still have a fire for this reason, and ceilidhs are the norm.

    None moreso than at Hogmanay – the archetypal “winter’s miserable, lets have a party” festival. The whisky flows, the music’ played, the dances are exhausting and the conversation good…

    • thyra10

      That’s incredibly interesting and sorry for not getting back to you earlier.
      I’m so fascinated with how languages blend into each other and I remember when I visited the Orkney islands that I heard a lot of local words that made me think: “Hey, that’s almost like the word we have”. Even Kirkwall sounds half-Scandinavian since Kirke is church in all three Scandinavian languages.

  • Daniel Dormann

    When Winter (yes Winter as a living entity) closes the sky with grey thick lowhanging couds, lashes our faces and bodies with the whip of cold and humid air, penetrating to the bone in ways only the heart of an ex’s seems able to be, you man up and seek the “arnested” “fireplace if you will” of your friends and family’s company. What Winter has closed “hygge” will open (maybe not the icecream shop down the street though) “hygge” is when things are easy, you talk (Mostly women. My self and my male friends prefer saying as little as possible and let movies tell tales of lightly clad women) as a family you have unity, the food you eat filled with everything good, and makes your cardiologist shout at you. The ice cold of a friendly beer will soon warm you up and the face you had on to get through lashings of Winter’s cold, will drop and and show the beauty it left behind.
    Romantic yes I know, but the best way I could describe what it is to me.

  • Katia

    In Russian, it is “Уют” (Uiut”) or “Уютно” (“Uiutno”). Thank you so much for your post! I had so many good, kind childhood flashbacks, thanks to it – even I am not a Scandinavian, and never lived in places where it is too cold and dark for too long time….

    • thyra10

      Really? That’s so interesting. I learned Russian back in high school but we never got to Уют.

      I can recommend living in places that are cold and dark. Makes you appreciate the fire place more 😉

  • Dina

    Det var hyggelig. 🙂
    Ha en fin dag!

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