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Danish word of the day: Hyggeracisme

Today’s word of the day has been around a while but is an important part of modern debates around identity in Denmark.

What is hyggeracisme? 

The word hyggeracisme is a compound of two words: hygge and racisme.

Hygge is quite possibly the most famous Danish word outside of Denmark and the one with the longest conversation about its actual meaning, because it relates to a feeling or a mindset that doesn’t have an exact English equivalent.

We won’t go into it in too much detail here, but hygge can be used in almost any situation that makes you feel comfortable, happy and as if you’re having a nice time. It can also be used as either a noun (hygge), verb (at hygge) or an adjective (hyggelig).

Situations in which hygge might be referenced can include (but are not limited to) a dinner party with friends, a walk in the forest with family, a cup of coffee to catch up with a former colleague or visiting a Christmas market.

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

Racisme means exactly what you think it means: racism.

Why do I need to know hyggeracisme?

So why are these two apparently very different things combined into a single Danish word, and why is it important to understand hyggeracisme?

Just by talking about what hyggeracisme means, we’re touching on a complex and longstanding debate that takes in discussions about identity, free speech and what constitutes discrimination, and it’s not something all Danes agree on by any stretch.

So we can’t comprehensively cover all the arguments, theories and points of view here. But we’ll try to explain what the concept of hyggeracisme is.

The dictionary defines it as “using racist words or expressing prejudice about persons of other ethnic backgrounds in a way that one considers to be funny or unproblematic, but which is hurtful or offensive towards those one is talking to or about”.

This might mean using pejorative words like neger (literally, “negro”, the word became socially unacceptable in Danish later than it did in English) or perker (a very offensive word which refers to people of colour, often of Middle Eastern heritage, but which has been reclaimed in some contexts by minority communities).

If these words are used in what appears to be a light-hearted, joking way which does not directly attack the subject, the speaker might believe or argue that they are not being racist. The rejection of this is that it’s hyggeracisme: still using an offensive word, othering people and potentially harming them, under the guise of not meaning the word ‘seriously’.

Another form of hyggeracisme is ‘accidental’ racism – a real-life example of this being the criticism recently received by broadcaster TV2 when a presenter compared Moroccan footballers and their families to monkeys during a light-hearted segment on a news programme.

The presenter and the broadcaster both apologised unreservedly for the incident, but the fact that it occurred at all is – arguably – evidence that hyggeracisme is still sometimes seen by some people (in this case, people working for a national broadcaster) as not being harmful.

An argument against hyggeracisme is that it shows a lack of understanding for how people of other backgrounds might feel or view the use of offensive language towards them – even if the speaker’s intention isn’t to be racist.

Meanwhile, people who call out hyggeracisme risk being accused of being krænkelsesparat: lacking humour and being more interested in being politically correct than in the discussion at hand.

It’s notable that hyggeracisme is not unique: hyggesexisme is also often talked about in Denmark. So there is clearly still a discussion to be had about discriminatory language in its various forms.

Member comments

  1. Michael, hyggeracisme translates best in English to “one manifestation of systemic racism.” And, yes, it show up in many people who are the first to say, “There’s not a racism bone in my body.”

    Perhaps that is helpful to you.

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For members


Danish word of the day: Trivsel

A word that expresses a feeling of well-being.

Danish word of the day: Trivsel

What is trivsel? 

Trivsel is a noun which is difficult to pin to a direct English translation. It comes from the verb at trives, which is a little easier, meaning “to thrive”.

At trives is used in a broader range of situations than “thrive”, however. You can say han trives til fodbold (“he’s thriving at football practice”), but also han trives i sin nye skole.

This latter sentence literally means “he’s thriving at his new school” but doesn’t exactly mean “thriving” in the way you’d understand the word in English. As well as growing physically or mentally, trives can also mean to find yourself in a generally good situation, to feel at home in your surroundings or to be comfortable and able to develop in the work or school situation you are in.

So han trives i skolen doesn’t necessarily mean “he’s getting good marks and learning a lot at school”, although this may also be the case. Instead, it can mean something closer to “he likes his school and is happy to go there”.

Why do I need to know trivsel?

As the noun form of at trives, trivsel is normally used to describe the level of well-being of someone in a particular context. It’s common to hear it used about children and young people, but it’s not limited to that particular topic.

You might have read a sentence such as det er afgørende for børns trivsel, at man kan komme i skole og være sammen med klassekammerater (”it’s crucial for the well-being of children that they can come into school and see their classmates”) during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there was discussion about the impact of lockdowns on young people’s development and mental health.

The opposite of trivsel is mistrivsel. This is even harder to translate unless you just think of it as being an opposite. “Lack of well-being” or a “well-being deficit” loosely convey its meaning, and it can also just mean “feeling bad”.

Man risikerer mistrivsel blandt børn og unge, hvis skolerne bliver ved med at lukket på længere sigt is a negated way of saying the previous example sentence: ”You are at risk of damaging the well-being and development of children and young people if schools remain closed in the longer term”.