Webster’s Word of the Day: etymology



-the history of a word or phrase shown by tracing its development and relationships

When I do homework, I listen to Swedish radio. I don’t speak Swedish, don’t personally know any Swedish people nor have I even ever visited Sweden. Nevertheless, the language is beautiful, and I’ve unequivocally decided that Scandinavians just do it all right: timeless Finn Juhl chairs and Danish design, limitless amounts of grayscale, boxy yet sexy-grandma-chic clothing and adding lingonberries to every food possible. Additionally, Scandinavian languages have historically created some of the best words imaginable. They kind of sound like IKEA furniture names, but trust me — they’re so much more than your typical Smörball duvet cover.

First is the Swedish verb and noun fika, which refers to the act of having coffee leisurely with friends and enjoying each other’s company. You can arrange a fika or refer to the action as a fika. A whole culture has developed around the word itself, dating back to its emergence in 19th century slang. Going to “grab a coffee” is certainly not like grabbing a double shot espresso before work or even catching up with someone in a brief conversation — the entire experience is about using coffee to facilitate meaningful discussion and sincerely engaging with company. Scandinavian people are often thought of asbeing somewhat standoffish or cold, but this comes from the fact that most people prefer a few committed friendships to many acquaintances. Living in American culture, which champions social extroversion, I find this notion emotionally refreshing. Fika forever.

Another Swedish term is lagom, or “just the right amount.” Again, the true meaning is lost in translation. The originally-Viking term refers to behavioral aspects more than physical measurements. The word is still rooted in effortlessness and never alludes to perfection, reaffirming historical Scandinavian colloquial connections to simplistic lifestyles. Ina Garten preparing a kale salad in the kind of chic tunic middle-aged women often wear: lagom. Guy Fieri’s Mac-Daddi-Roni salad sponsored by Ed Hardy himself: not so lagom. You get the picture.

Lastly, the Danish word hygge may just be my favorite word in the entire Scandinavian lexicon. Pronounced hue-gah, it refers loosely to a warm environment that encourages good times with friends and family. Places can certainly be hygge but so can objects. The two often work together to create the ultimate hygge experience. Personally, I know exactly what my ideal hygge environment would be. It’s based off a picture of a cat enveloped in a white duvet, smiling with its eyes closed while basking in an ideal early morning sun. I, too, would be completely enveloped in my sheets, eating sugar cookies while drinking a triple-shot Americano. For a few weeks.

So do as the Scandys do. It’s not without any reasoning that Scandinavian nations are often rated the happiest countries in the world. Meet your friends, drink coffee for hours and appreciate life’s most physically and emotionally comfortable moments.