Hello, hygge – welcome to English!

Exciting news for all fans of hygge! I was delighted to discover this morning that ‘hygge’ has now officially been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. So, this ‘untranslatable’ word which kind of means ‘cosiness, togetherness, a feeling of warmth and belonging’, now exists in the English language!

As a Linguistics graduate, I know that English is very much a mongrel language. We’ve taken inspiration from Latin, French, Spanish, the Germanic languages, Arabic, Hebrew, and many, many more, and a surprising number of English words have Nordic origins. The influence of Old Norse is particularly evident in place names in Northern and Eastern England after the Vikings colonised the area from the 9th to 11th century AD. Places ending in ‘-by’ (Rugby, Grimsby) and ‘-thorpe’ (Scunthorpe, Mablethorpe), ‘-ham’ (Durham) and ‘-ton’ (Skipton) are most likely Viking in origin, as are places beginning with a ‘sk’ sound (because ‘sh’ was a difficult sound to pronounce in Old Norse, so ‘sh’ sounds were often replaced with a hard Viking ‘k’… and now I’m wondering if I should make Hard Viking K my new nickname).

So, was the adoption of ‘hygge’ into English inevitable? Dutch has ‘gezelligheid’, Swedish has ‘mys’ and German has ‘Gemütlichkeit’, but ‘hygge’ was the word that swept the UK in the autumn of 2016, and for me, it just sounds like it best emulates the concept. Also, as much as Brits struggle to pronounce ‘hygge’ (which isn’t as difficult as it looks), I can’t imagine ‘Gemütlichkeit’ being any easier.

Of course, just because we didn’t have a word for it before, it didn’t mean we didn’t hygge in the UK before. There are lots of feelings we can’t fully articulate because there’s not an exact word for everything, and why we feel a pang of recognition when we find out about untranslatable (or as-yet untranslated!) words in other languages which perfectly and neatly describe a feeling, an emotion or a situation. We could’ve come up with our own word for it, but why would we when ‘hygge’ encapsulates everything it needs to? English has been influenced by hundreds, if not thousands, of other languages in some way or another, and I’m very happy we’re maintaining the Nordic origins of the word, even if the concept itself is universal. Now all we need is a lesson in pronunciation – check out the video below to perfect your Danish accent and cosy on up with this brand new addition to the English dictionary!

Are you happy to see ‘hygge’ joining the Oxford English Dictionary? Which other words on the new additions list have caught your eye? Will you be trying as hard as me to shoehorn ‘come-hithery’, ‘unlaughing’ and ‘zyzzyva’ into your everyday speech? Let me know!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. beksky says:

    I love it when new words get added to the dictionary! I think it’s nice that we’ve kept the Scandinavian roots of the word and adapted it as our own – it’s not like it’s the first time! I love how ‘woke’ and it’s differing meaning has been added as well.

    1. Me too! I spotted a few words in that list and thought ‘But isn’t that already… oh, oh right’, hahaha! Yes, I’m also very pleased we’ve adopted the word entirely – it would be such a shame to lose its Scandi origins!

  2. Susi Eastin says:

    Amazing news!

    1. I agree! Welcome to English, hygge! 🙂

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