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Hygge: What Danish happiness tells us about localised translation

The Danish word hygge has become a recent part of British vocabulary. It is just one word yet 3 books were released on hygge in September alone.

Hygge is suspected to be one of the reasons the Danes are amongst the happiest people on the planet. Denmark was once again found to be the world’s happiest country in the 2016 World Happiness Report. What sad irony, then, that there’s no literal English Translation. Not only is hygge frequently pronounced incorrectly (more on the correct pronunciation later), it is often misunderstood.

At Global Voices, we often talk about the importance local knowledge plays in an accurate translation, and Hygge is the perfect example of how words can become distorted and their true value lost in translation.

What does hygge actually mean?

Type hygge into Google Translate and its English translation comes out as ‘fun’.

 

hygge = fun

 

However, in the English to Danish translation tool, you’ll have to type in ‘cosiness’ to get to hygge. Fun and cosiness are hardly the same thing, and although cosiness is generally accepted as the closest word to hygge in the English dictionary, even this falls short of an accurate translation.

 

cosiness = hygge

 

In fact, any word for word literal translation falls way short of explaining exactly what hygge is. We prefer Visit Denmark’s (considerably more lengthy) definition:

“Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and cold beer and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too.”

Once you dig a little deeper and truly understand the meaning and value of hygge you begin to realise that ‘cosiness’ only skims the surface.

How do you pronounce ‘hygge’

Yes, you may have heard a lot about hygge. However, not only do most people not know what it actually means, they don’t know how to pronounce it either.

Most go for ‘high-gy’ or ‘hig-eye’. Both are wrong, the actual pronunciation is closer to ‘hue-ga’.

Can you have hygge in England?

Although to understand hygge you must ask a local, it can be replicated. Living cosily is a start, but it’s also a mixture of nostalgia, warmth, comfort and enjoyment. Comfort foods, such as home-cooked meals you has as a child, can be considered hygge. As can the warmth of a duvet on a cold rainy day.

According to Charlotte Abrahams, British author of Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, part of the charm of hygge is that it is easily replicable. Speaking in the Daily Mail, Abrahams said: “I’ve always been deeply suspicious of all these lifestyle philosophies, but hygge isn’t like that. It is linked to mindfulness and happiness science, but in a lovely, gentle way. It has no rules and it does seem very achievable.”

At Global Voices all our Danish translators are native-tongue linguists with first hand knowledge of the culture, people and business that makes Denmark unique. In fact, all our translators are. It’s this focus on localisation that allows our clients to be heard on a global scale. To find out more on how we can offer your business a localised translation, visit our localisation page here.

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