The Swedish word lagom translates as “just the right amount”

Originally published at: The Swedish word lagom translates as "just the right amount" | Boing Boing


I mean, we have a word in English that means “just the right amount,” too: “enough”.

I don’t know why people get so excited to discover that a specific, narrow word that doesn’t have a one-word English equivalent. Every language has such words that are extremely difficult to translate, and English is no exception: “serendipity” is gloriously precise word meaning “the discovery of something wonderful that you were not specifically looking for”, “vicarious” means among other things “experienced by imagining how someone else would experience it.” We should celebrate other languages and enjoy their words, but we shouldn’t pretend that English is measurably poorer because we don’t have the exact equivalent of “gemütlichkeit” or “samar”. (If we really needed them, we’d steal them.)


Enough and lagom still might not precisely correspond. As described “lagom” seems to have peaceful and contented connotations, while “enough” often can be more negative. We can get by on it, but it’s meager, or it’s actually too much, and it’s upsetting me.


“Sufficient”, then?


I am reminded of the Japlish expression I once saw on a Tshirt or similar, “More than enough is too much.”


“sufficient” has the connotation that it is enough but it wouldn’t hurt if it was more.

But I’m with @Robert_Matthews : every language has such words, and it isn’t necessarily a deep insight into the culture.


Yeah, it’s weird. I’m Danish and watching the sudden hype around “Hygge” threw me for a loop. Partly because the ideas around it (candles and tea and blah) is not what it means to me and partly because I really like that word/idea, to the point that I use it instead of goodbye. For me, it’s the danish equivalent of no worries/chill.

Every language has such words that are extremely difficult to translate, and English is no exception:

Exactly. I love English. I remember reading somewhere that Danish has around 6.000 words in daily use, compared to 20.000 in English (or thereabouts) and for a long time I was advocating for us just having one global language and it should be English. But, as I’ve gotten older, I realize that there’s a lot of knowledge imbedded in languages, like in the way some cultures can see more colors because they have words for them. Or how women are more in tune with their emotions, because they can put words to them (gross simplification or misunderstanding probably). The idea though, that you cannot describe something, if you don’t have the words for them, seems very valid. Maybe we should have a global language, consisting of all of them… when we’ve uploaded :slight_smile:


My mother used to say ‘an elegant sufficiency’ - two words but pretty much the same meaning. I wondered where it came from. A quick search shows it is quite a bit older than she was, but does not show a single source…


From the video:

But today is perfect, just the right amount of heat… If only there was a word to describe just how right this weather is today.

I’m in Minnesota. We have very cold winters and very hot summers. On those few days a year when the weather is neither-too-hot-nor-too-cold, but just right, I usually describe it as “The Earth isn’t trying to kill us off today.”


I was intrigued that the author who was interviewed in the video, Lola Akinmade Åkerström, said (IIUC) that lagom works on an individual level, but not on a group level, because one person’s lagom may not be the same as another person’s.

And the author of the linked article at BigThink, Jonny Thomson, says:

There are two separate strands to lagom. The first is a kind of social awareness that recognizes that what we do affects other people. In this, we might see lagom more as a kind of “fair use” policy. If you take three cookies from the plate, two other people aren’t going to get one. If you hoard and grab everything you can, elbowing and cursing your way to the front of the line, then at best, that makes you a bit of an ass. At worst, it leaves others in ruin.

The second strand, however, is a mental shift that finds contentment in satisfaction. Many of us have internalized the ideas that bigger means better, that a bank balance means status, and that excess means happiness. Lagom, though, is to enjoy the “just right.” It’s not simply learning to “enjoy the simple things,” but also appreciating that sometimes less really is more. Lagom is knowing that enjoying the now of what you have does not mean you need to add more of it. …

I’ve been intrigued for a while by conversation here on the bbs that seems to conclude that the climate emergency can’t be solved/fixed by individual action, but that the changes have to be at a government and regulatory level. While I agree with that, at the same time I think that individual actions are still necessary—in the sense of It all adds up and Why not both?

For a long time I’ve thought that, to address the climate emergency meaningfully/successfully, we’re all going to have to, individually, get to a place in our minds/hearts where we’re content with having “just enough” and no longer feel a need to keep up with the Joneses, or to one-up the Joneses. I’m not sure that humans can attain that, but it seems to me it’s necessary to attain, if any government regulations are to be effective IRL. Because, humans have a way of trying to circumvent regulations in order to get “more for me”. The concept of lagom might help.

I may have gone a little off-topic, but that’s how the bbs is for me. Everything is connected to everything else!


A similar, but not synonymous, concept in English is “satisficing”, in other words choosing a “good enough” option rather than obsessing over the perfect or the optimum choice.


Because it’s a perfect “Aha!” moment and those are wonderful aren’t they?
Because learning what other people value enough to have a word at the ready to deploy at any moment for just that thing also tells us about ourselves and what we value.
Just because, don’t need more.

And yet it doesn’t mean lagom because it just Isn’t used the same way. I’ve been living in Sweden for a few months now and lagom is certainly a word I’ve come across a few times, it seems to me to be used idiomatically much of the time. I couldn’t use “enough” in a conversation and hope to express the same idea. Not that I couldn’t but it would be situational and would not have the same connotation just because of shared past usage.


What’s wrong with Esperanto? Even Vulcans would have no problem making a switch.


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Esperanto is the only proper language for invoking commands on the Shell in Scott Meyer’s “Magic 2.0” series:

Phillip developed a similar program when he first arrived called The Shell. The Shell listens for verbal commands in poorly translated Esperanto, an international language developed in the late 1800s. To enable a user for The Shell, you must recite the incantation: “Supren Supren, Suben Suben, Maldeskstra dekstra, Maldeskstra dekstra, Bee Aye Komenco” (which translates to "up up, down down, left right, left right, B A Start, which is the Konami Code). Reciting the incantation is what enables a Shell user. To actually meet the criteria for the Shell to execute your commands, you must be dressed in the proper wizard attire (5 Foot Staff or an 18 inch wand, Robes with cuffs 2 feet in circumference, and a conical hat no shorter than 12 inches). Phillip explained that he need not worry about minor inconveniences ever again – he set Martin’s internal temperature to a comfortable interval, made it so Martin could speak any language, and even stopped his aging process. Phillip explained that he cannot be physically injured, but he could still die from things like suffocation, drowning, starvation, etc. He said that there is a way to make you not need food, water and air, but you would still feel like you need those things. The spell was created by Todd, and it would turn the target invisible and inaudible as well, with the only sound able to be made by the subject was spooky haunting noises.

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