Translating Hygge, a Danish Word Never Meant to be Translated

Each language has a few words that cannot easily be translated, and Danish is no exception.

Danish is in general not as colorful and full of nuances as English. When translating from English to Danish, I often find 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 in Danish that is nearly impossible to render in any other language. People who may not otherwise speak Danish oftentimes know the word simply from hearing about Danish culture. The word is hygge and is pronounced [hue-gah].

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 with 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 lifetime. 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 nearly 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 Danish culture and Danish design. Many products made in Denmark are geared towards creating the feeling of hygge in the home, office or wherever 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 ambience of the situation I am trying to describe. I then know that my most creative and colorful abilities as a professional translator will be put to the test. Hygge was never meant to be translated. It was meant to be felt.