7 untranslatable Nordic words you’ll love

In case you hadn’t heard, I’m quite fond of hygge. One of the things I really love about it is that there is no direct translation into English – this is the Linguistics graduate in me. I love the different characters of languages that give us terms we can’t say neatly in our own language. It’s cool isn’t it?

However, recently I’ve seen a few articles about how ‘x’ Nordic word is the new ‘hygge’ (it’s currently happening a lot with ‘lagom‘… more on that later). I think it’s important to stress that nothing the media tells you is the new hygge is, in fact, the new anything. All these terms are more than just marketing buzzwords, and just because we’ve just ‘discovered’ them outside Scandinavia, they’re far from new concepts. Nothing is the new hygge, and hygge isn’t the new anything. All these terms have coexisted happily for a very long time before we started using them, and it cheapens these wonderfully rich concepts to boil them down to ‘this Nordic word replaces that Nordic word’.

So, now we’ve cleared that up, let’s take a look at some other beautiful untranslatable Nordic words to complement, not replace, hygge…

Kura skymning

Kura skymning at dusk

Kura skymning is another Swedish term, which means ‘sitting quietly and pondering at dusk’. How lovely is that?! We’ve had some stunning winter sunsets recently, and I love the light as it bursts into searing watermelon red and tangerine and then fades into lilac, and mauve, and petrol blue, and finally black. I love the drama of a sunset at what is otherwise such a calm part of the day, and kura skymning is a reminder that we should slow down and take in this wondrous sight for just a few moments every evening.


After the media storm surrounding hygge in late 2016, the media is desperate to find the next big Nordic thing, and several publications have latched onto lagom, a Swedish word which roughly means ‘just the right amount’. It’s being touted as the new lifestyle trend for 2017, focusing on balance, moderation and frugality. The best English equivalent I can think of is ‘everything in moderation’. It’s not the ‘new hygge’, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive! Hygge isn’t, as some people believe, about overindulgence and constantly treating yourself, and lagom isn’t an antidote to the hygge lifestyle – the two can exist in your life together perfectly happily!

If you want to know more about lagom, check out this piece from DON’T JUST STARE, who work to promote wellbeing, resilience and mindful living.


Sunshine over Reykjavik

As they say in Iceland, ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes’. They’re not wrong – don’t even try to predict that crazy weather. That’s why I like the word ‘sólarfrí’, which is a word for when Icelanders are given time off work or their other obligations to enjoy an unexpectedly sunny day. Now why the hell don’t we have this in the UK? I know our sunny days are just as few and far between, but the Icelanders definitely have this one right. Next time it’s nice weather, just send your boss an email with the subject line ‘Sólarfrí’. I’m sure they’ll understand.


I LOVE THIS ONE. This is a Danish and Norwegian word which refers to that crazy, head-spinning time when you’re starting to fall in love. It’s more than being in like, but less than being in love. If you’re anything like me, this will be your perpetual state. I experience forelsket with everything from black cherries to tiny fluffy baby animals and drag queens I’ve never met, so this is a word I desperately need in my life.


Candles at an outdoor dinner party

This is one to use at the start of your next dinner party. As we know, a Danish dinner party is a fairly casual affair, and of course describing your evening as hyggeligt is a massive compliment to the host. ‘Velbekomme’ is a neat way of saying ‘Enjoy your meal’ – like ‘Bon appetit’, but delightfully Danish. Try it next time you give someone a bowl of your homemade soup or serve up a hearty dinner to the family. You’ll be using it constantly in no time.


I think ‘tøffelhelt’ is one of the funniest words I’ve come across in some time. I think we all know a tøffelhelt, or a ‘slipper hero’. Still none the wiser? Fair enough – a tøffelhelt is someone who tends not to live life on the edge. Maybe they add an extra sugar to their tea. Maybe they stayed up until 10pm last night and lived to tell the tale. Maybe they started usijng a new pen before their old one had run out… imagine! I love that this is such an epidemic in Norway that they needed a word to represent the concept. I have such brilliant mental images of all these poor, tedious tøffelhelts roaming around the fjords.


Bird at sunrise

You know when some days you wake up filled with joie de vivre (another excellent phrase) and you want to burst out of bed and enjoy the morning birdsong? This is what the Swedes might called gökotta! Maybe tomorrow is a day for gökotta… get up 10 minutes early (if you can bear it on a dark winter morning) and listen to the birds having their morning conversations. I wish we knew what they’re saying. ‘I’m still hungry, anyone got another worm out there?’

What’s your favourite untranslatable Nordic word? If you find a good one, drop it in the comments so I can add a new one to my collection!


22 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel Baird says:

    Great post! Headed back to Iceland next week and can’t wait!

    1. I’m so jealous! Hope you get to discover some fun new Icelandic words 🙂

  2. These words are great!

    1. They’re fun aren’t they?!

  3. Jacqueline says:

    Love these great words! Australian’s have their words too.

    1. They’re lovely aren’t they? 🙂

  4. Pia Fredfeidt says:

    My favorite scandinavian Word is ‘døgnvild’, which is the norwegian Word for jetlag, but littealy means Lost in time

  5. Tine says:

    So in Danish the word “tøffelhelt” (slipper hero) is actually something you would call a man who is completely obedient to a dominant woman. You could also say: “Han er under tøflen” (he is under the slipper) As in a dominant woman walks all over him. 🙂


    1. Hahaha I love that! I guess it’s the Danish equivalent of the English phrase ‘under the thumb’ 🙂

  6. Kura skymnin – love it.

    1. It’s one of my favourite concepts too – pretty isn’t it?

  7. Sylvain L says:

    Reblogged this on Shift2Drive.

  8. Sylvain L says:

    Merci à vous de nous offrir un peu de la culture de votre beau pays.
    Je vous suis, vous lis, m’abonne et reblogue, depuis Toulouse en France.

    1. Merci beaucoup Sylvain, c’est très gentil! Je suis heureux que vous aimez mon blog 🙂 Reviens bientôt!

  9. Jasmine Ouellette says:

    Your writing is fabulous. This post made me smile – it is so interesting to learn about other languages. Have you ever read anything by Wade Davis or listened to his TED talks?! He is an anthropologist and ethnobotanist. Check out his book “The Wayfinders”, or this TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/wade_davis_on_endangered_cultures
    I think you’ll find it very interesting! He talks about the ancient wisdom that is passed on through verbal language, and the alarming rate at which languages are going extinct. A brilliant mind and amazing writer!

  10. Martine says:

    En Islande, tu peux aussi dire : ‘Glugga Veður’ (Window-Weather), meaning = the weather looks good through the window but is actually not good at all !

    1. Oooh I love this! I totally get that – it’s one of my favourite types of weather 🙂 Merci beaucoup!

  11. Shannon Turske says:

    I love this list, I have been sharing it with my friend that introduced me to friluftsliv which is open-air living. I tried to look up the pronunciation for these but couldn’t find it. Thank you for sharing this.

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