It’s official: ‘hygge’ is now an English word

It's been trending in the UK and US for so long that it has almost become a publishing genre in its own right. Now hygge is here to stay with its very own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

It’s official: 'hygge' is now an English word
'Hygge' does not necessarily entail sitting in front of a fire with your socks on. Photo: Iris/Scanpix

The popularity of hygge has seen British as well as American media putting out article upon article on the culture behind the word  – often holding forth on Danish clichés such as candles, wool, fireplaces and elderflower juice.

At least nine books have also been released on the topic over the last eighteen months.

Often mistranslated as ‘cosy’, hygge is most commonly used – at least in this reporter’s anecdotal view – simply to mean ‘having a nice time’.

Danish publisher Gyldendal's Danish-English dictionary translates the adjective form of the word – which can also be used as a noun or verb – as 'cosy', 'comfortable', 'pleasant' and 'homelike', amongst other things.

Oxford Dictionaries has previously defined hygge as a noun meaning “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)”. 

READ ALSO: Danish experts warn of 'hygge-junkie' health risk

Use of the word in British parlance has also given rise to the need to explain its difficult pronunciation, since the Danish ‘y’ vowel does not exist in English and the short ‘e’ on the end of the word is also uncommon.

While Brits can be forgiven for pronouncing 'hygge' as they read it (‘higgy’), advice to say the word as ‘hoo-gah’ or ‘hue-guh’ in the The Guardian and other media is also a little inaccurate.

Approximate equivalent British pronunciations to the word’s two vowel sounds are the ‘u’ in ‘put’ for the Danish y; and the ‘or’ in ‘tractor’ for the ‘e’.

The British affection for hygge is believed to have started with a 2015 BBC article.

Hygge is not the only aspect of Danish culture to have enjoyed a breakout in the UK in recent years. The country’s gritty crime dramas and New Nordic cuisine have also seen success overseas, not to mention the biggest cliché of them all – Denmark’s regularly achieved position at the top of ‘world’s happiest country’ rankings.

Other words permanently entering the British lexicon in the latest OED update include ‘woke’, ‘tennis mum’ and ‘post-truth’. 

READ ALSO: Hygge loses out to post-truth as 2016's word of the year


How hygge is misunderstood in the English language (in one Twitter thread)

An incisive Twitter thread took apart misunderstandings of the concept of hygge and its dubious grammatical usage in English. See whether you agree with the analysis.

How hygge is misunderstood in the English language (in one Twitter thread)
Hygge? Not necessarily. Photo: Ólafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

Hygge entered the Oxford English Dictionary a while back now, and countless numbers of Anglophone books have been written about the concept.

But while the concept remains an interest – and aspiration – for many in the English-speaking world, the word itself is more mundane than you might think when used in its original language.

London-based Danish comedian, author and activist Sofie Hagen ripped through what she called “making a wrong about ‘hygge’” in a sharply-worded Twitter thread, posted in response to a headline in the Observer which incorrectly used ‘hygge’ as a countable noun.

Hagen did not hold back on incorrect pronunciations she has come across and wrote that she had even been corrected for pronouncing the word in her native tongue.



She then explained that hygge does not just mean 'cosy' as it is often translated, but encompasses a wide range of expressions and situations.



The comedian also had a few things to say about Danes' ability to cut through polite niceties and get to the point.



She was also prepared to voice criticism of her home country.

A commenter noted that, in their defence, the Observer may have been trying a pun with 'hygge' standing in for 'hug'. That did little to make the London-based Dane feel better about the offending headline.


What do you think? Should English-language media and publishers rein in their hygge fixation — at least until they understand it properly? Or is it okay for a concept to take on a new form in other cultures and languages? How do you view Hagen's assessment of Danish attitudes to feminism? Do you appreciate the directness of Danes or do you miss hearing words like 'please' and 'pardon'? Let us know — we'd love to hear your thoughts.

READ ALSO: It's official: 'hygge' is now an English word