Just how out of control has the Brits’ and Americans' obsession with hygge gotten in the past year? Far enough that the Danish word, which some argue is untranslatable and others say just basically means ‘coziness’, narrowly missed out on being dubbed the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.
Oxford defined hygge as a mass noun meaning “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)”.
Unlike other words on the list, including the winning entry ‘post-truth’, hygge is neither a new word nor a new concept. It’s been a staple of the Danish language and culture for decades. But it’s taken on a new life this year, thanks to a glut of new English-language books on the market and UK and US newspapers publishing articles on how to be ‘hyggeligt’ like the Danes seemingly every week.
Perhaps the real reason hygge has caught on amongst English speakers in 2016 is encapsulated by the other entries on the word of the year list.
Post-truth, alt-right, Brexiteer, woke and even coulrophobia (that’s the extreme fear of clowns) all bear witness to what a contentious, ugly and frightening year this has been in many regards, rife with lies, racism, social injustice, deep divisions and those damned creepy clowns.
Chatbot, another finalist, reminds us of the impending takeover of our robot overlords while yet another, adulting, serves to demonstrate that we all secretly despise elements of our mundane lives or are in a perpetual struggle with responsibility and adulthood, regardless of age.
No wonder a word like ‘hygge’, with its connotations of sipping hot cocoa by the fire or connecting with friends and loved ones on a deeply person level, has such newfound mass appeal – especially if the Brits and Americans now so enamoured with the notion aren't familiar with its elements of "social control" (or supposed health risks).
Oxford defines the ten finalists in the video below:
For English speakers looking to mine Danish for other gems, we suggest starting with our list of ten Danish words the world should start using now.