my three favourite words: “haimish” + “hygge” + “truc”

Posted on October 6th, 2011

I can get obsessed by words. I’ll say them over and over in my head. Or they take on a colour or a smell. Mostly they take on a shape. I was obsessed with “common” when I was a kid. I wrote it over and over in books. Not because of how it sounded (or Lord forbid, what it meant)  but because it looked like a caterpillar.

I get Gary And Greg mixed up always, because visually they’re the same shape. See what I mean?

But I have three favourite words. I adore them for their slighly onomatopoetic value and because they “suggest” a mood, a feel, a vibe, rather than spell something out aggressively. So that when you say the word, you just “get” it, even if you can’t point to it. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there’s no English equivalent for any of them.

1. Haimish

A Yiddish word that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality. A cosy, tatty, daggy bar where the hot chocolate is served in 1970s pottery mugs is haimish. A night in with girlfriends under a doona eating stew repeats is haimish. Going home to mum and dad’s and playing boggle while drinking sherry is haimish. David Brookes at NYT wrote a wonderful ode to the word recently, extrapolating the idea out and suggesting we need to seek more of it in this individualistic culture.

2. Hygge

This one is a danish word pronounced “hoo-gah” and it kind of means “cosiness”, but as a Dane will tell you…it means so much more. It defines the core of Danishness as “chic” defines the French. One definition I’ve found says it’s the art of creating intimacy. So it’s an act as well as a feel – a verb and an adjective. Hygge is also something you consciously strive for…it’s about connecting in a cosy, elegant, unfussy way. It’s about weaving friendship and intimacy with ease. Let’s get hygge with it!!!

3. truc

It roughly translates as “thingie”. But when I lived in France my sense was that it was used in a way that somehow intimated a “thingie” that was special and cute and little and precious and simple. I have a bunch of little trucs (a porcelain pig, some statues of Mary, a tin boat) – little “thingies” that belonged to my grandmother or were found on trips overseas.

Trucs, to my mind, create haimish and can help build hygge when shared! And just reflecting on these words is nice. Nice being the closest English word to capture things.

Do you have some favourite words that roll nicely or look sweet or convey something perfect?

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  • Hyggelig! How I love that danish word. it is the sound of someone wrapping their arms around you, the beauty of a sunset, the taste of Gløgg as it travels down your throat.

    Hyggelig is beautiful!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    how do you pronounce it, phonetically?

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    Kristie Reply:

    um… my danish is extra rusty, but where I lived, and in the local dialect it was “hoo-geh-lee” kinda. (Danish is sooo hard to write phonetically sometimes!). It’s the feeling the local pub I went to had, or hot chocolate on a snowy night, or the feeling of dancing around the christmas tree covered in lit candles.. To me it is the essence of living – what everything strives to feel like. A warming of the soul. Gee I miss Denmark! (a once-upon-a-time exchange student there)

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    mike wilde Reply:

    Our ‘ Hug ‘ comes from ‘ hygge ,’ which gives some indication as to it’s meaning.

    In Sweden ‘ hygglig ‘ is often used to describe a person.
    Someone who is warm or has an agreeable nature.
    But an object or a place can also be described as ‘ hygglig.’
    (Though not so common in my experience)

    The best Swedish equivalent of ‘ hygge’ in the sense that Sarah describes is ..
    mysa (verb)
    Really hard to get your head around as a foreigner
    i.e Vi ska mysa lite .. We are going to get cosy/have a cosy one

    or mysig (adjective)
    Easier for us to grasp
    i.e. Det var en mysig kväll .. It was a cosy evening

    I knew all those years in Scandinavia would pay off one day !

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    I’m going to Denmark next year!

    mike wilde Reply:

    Moi aussi ..

    [Reply]

  • astrid

    Gezellig! It must be the dutch translation of Hygge – cosy – togetherness. There is just no adequate english word for it.

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    Heather Reply:

    I was just about to post saying the word gezellig!! I am part Dutch and have been learning Dutch this year and I just love ebing able to use this word when talking to my Dutch friends and family 🙂

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    Linda Reply:

    Me too – I wanted to post gezellig too! It is one of those words that can’t be translated. but you know what it means when you are there.

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    Mel Reply:

    Oh yeah I love that word. And I think the whole of Amsterdam is an example of gezellig, so cute and cosy and like something out of a story book. And the cafes are so unpretentious. My two times there I just loved it. Oh yeah and the way the Dutch fill their apartment with plants. Gorgeous.

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    rcpfg Reply:

    In Russian we have a word that is in that same vein – Ujut. It is all those things – grandma’s cuddle (getting teary just remembering it), crackling fireplace, warm soup that mum’s made after a long play outdoors in winter. this made me wonder whether that cosy comfort is more associated with cold time of the year .. at least in my mind….

    I also love ‘fox’ – as in colloquial for pretty, healthy and fit. As in when my husband says to me ‘baby you are a fox!’

    But my other word of the moment or even phrase is ‘beautiful girl’, said with a 3 year old’s diction. I tell my son that he is my beautiful boy and he tells me back ‘mama you are my beautiful girl’. that makes my heart melt.

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  • Mia

    Extemporaneous – it means, without forethought or planning, spontaneous. Pretty much my whole life is extemporaneous, which is useful, as it’s a good word to shout loudly and grandly when trying to take the attention off the fact that you’re winging it.

    And I love craic. The good Irish time of fun and liveliness. I went on a road trip around American with Irish girls who used the word, and it always reminds me of them. “There is good craic here! And only luke-warm craic at the last place.”

    Oh, and fershnickered! Best Yiddish word ever. It means drunk, and sounds like it too. Yiddish has the best words that sound like what they are, especially insults – like schmuck, schmendrik and putz.

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    rcpfg Reply:

    actually you just reminded me of another – ‘pudd’n’ – (Irish for desert) – a cafe nearby had a lovely Irish waitress and she’d always ask us if we wanted some ‘pudd’n’. and seriously how can you say ‘no’ to that?

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  • OMG, loving this, these words need to spend more time being used in english, our world, our culture absolutely needs them. I’m all inspired to get some best girlfriends together under a doona. Thanks Sarah 🙂 I want to get all haimish and hoo-gah in my new home in the country..moving next week, perfect timing 🙂 I can’t help but adore your word nerdyness, I totally relate, but you’re inspiring me to take it to the next level 😉

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  • Ivy

    Oh I’m so thrilled you are covering hygge! I’m Norwegian, born and bred, hyggelig is pronounced hygg-e-lee and is the noun of hygge. We also have another word that covers a similar feeling to hygge; koselig, noun of kos. It can best be translated to cosy and pleasant, comfortable and safe. Us Scandinavians with our long, dark, cold winters thrive on our hygge and kos, it’s what gets us through the months of darkness. 🙂

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  • Dani

    It’s a little bit melancholy (and possibly a predicatble) but I love the word saudade, Portuguese for “longing” or “yearning”, but deeper than that. The closest English word is “nostalgia” but it’s more a sesne of being apart from something that one loves, especially when one is sperated by time and distance that can never be crossed.

    Wikipedia describes it as: ‘”the love that remains” or “the love that stays” after someone is gone….In fact, one can have ‘saudades’ of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future.’

    I like it because, to me, it captures that sense of urgency to appreciate and cherish things that are wonderful but impermanent (like emotions, or life itself) and find beuaty even in melancholy.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Ooooh, love this one! saudade…

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    Mel Reply:

    Oh that is THE WORD thanks for sharing such beauty. It almost makes me cry reading your comment.

    [Reply]

    Nicole Reply:

    A few months ago I was traveling around Portugal where I became obsessed with something called Fado music (folk music native to Lisbon). Expressing ´saudade´ is the essential element of Fado.

    You can listen to it here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YriVM8sC7M&feature=related

    More info: (http://www.portugal.com/information/fado)

    ´The essential element of fado music is “saudade,” a Portuguese word that translates roughly as longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. Fado flowers from this fatalistic world-view. It speaks of an undefined yearning that can’t be satisfied. For Portuguese emigrants fado is an expression of homesickness for the place they left behind.

    Like other forms of folk music such as American blues, Argentine tango or Greek rebitika, fado cannot be explained; it must be felt and experienced. One must have the soul to transmit that feeling; a fadista who does not possess saudade is thought of as inauthentic. Audiences are very knowledgeable and very demanding. If they do not feel the fadista is up to form they will stop a performance.´

    Also… you must check out the book ‘The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World’. It includes gems such as….

    razbliuto: ‘the sentimental feeling you have about someone you once loved but no longer do’ (Russian)
    Scheissenbedauern: ‘the disappointment one feels when something turns out not nearly as badly as one had expected’ (German)
    seigneur-terrasse: Someone who spends time, but not money, at a café. (French; literally, ‘lord of the terrace’)
    neko-neko: A person who comes up with a creative idea that just makes things worse (Indonesian).

    FYI, In the Pascuense language of Easter Island, ‘tingo’ means to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by asking to borrow them.

    [Reply]

  • Since we have the Scandi vibe going I must add this word in the list: FIKA [fee-ka]

    A Swedish word for a “coffee break” – taking a break from whatever you are doing and having a fika with a friend/a colleague/family.

    [Reply]

  • George

    Cok guzel (chock-goo-zel) in Turkish think it means ‘all good’ always makes me smile when ppl say it, or decor in French similar meaning just love the way French people throw that down.

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  • Hamish

    Gosh, I’m not sure what to make of “haimish”…!

    [Reply]

  • My favorite word is cleaves–not so much because of how it looks or sounds, but because it means both to cling to and to split away from from. I love that the same word, same spelling, can be its own antonym. (Isn’t English grand?)

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  • I rather love the German word for butterfly, and the fact that it’s the complete opposite of the grace and beauty that IS the butterfly:

    “Schmetterling”

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    Did you know the word butterfly was originally flutterby. Amazing what you learn from the strip of a libra fleur!

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    Oh, and I have always thought it sad that something so beautiful as a butterfly only lives 1 day.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    you seriously learnt that on the Libra strip!!!??

    [Reply]

    Karen Reply:

    aha! Why, where did you first learn about it?

    And despite being a funny place to learn facts, I have been able to answer many questions at trival nights thanks to libra!!

    J Reply:

    No need for sarcasm. Ms Wilson!

  • Jem

    I was reading your through your backlog of articles recently and came across ‘Gary’ in another blog. Is he related to ‘Greg’?

    [Reply]

  • Stephanie

    I’m learning Italian as my boyfriend is Italian. We’re in Florence at the moment and he’s only speaking Italian to me. The night before last we were walking along the street and he said , “attraversiamo!” I immediately remembered Elizabeth Gilbert’s discourse on this wonderful word (meaning “let’s cross over”). I love learning Italian exactly because of its conviviality and energy. I feel a little thrill every time I don’t know a word – I reach for French and think of the probable Latin or some other association,add a flourish, thinking, “Gee, this cannot possibly be a word in current use,” and yet often it is! For all that the English vocabulary is vast, in comparison with French, for example, it often seems impoverished somehow. I also love the way Italian winks in words such as “trucco” for makeup (from “trick”).

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  • JSP

    Sarah, your sensation of perceiving words as colour, shape or smell is synesthesia. Interesting!

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    Mel Reply:

    Is that what savants do. That is how they have those amazing abilities to recall numbers, days, events because it’s a shape not a number. It’s fascinating the stuff about them.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Yes, It’s been said to me before…I think we all have mild cases…

    [Reply]

  • Mia

    Here are a few great ones I stole off One April Morning http://www.oneaprilmorning.net/2011/08/words-and-their-meanings.html

    Gumusservi (Turkish)
    Moonlight shining on water.

    Kummerspeck (German)
    Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon

    Toska (Russian)
    Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

    Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego)
    “The wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start.”

    Ya’aburnee (Arabic)
    Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

    [Reply]

    mike wilde Reply:

    Mamihlapinatapei

    Hi Mia
    I think The meaning of this word is beautiful. Very sensual ..
    but what a mouthful ..
    Actually, I’m practicing it as I write
    and it has a ‘Lion Kingy’ feel to it that I could get used to.

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    Mia Reply:

    Ha ha, now I have Hakuna Matata stuck in my head! Another interesting phrase actually, it does mean no worries in Swahili. Kind of like that older song Ca Plane Pour Moi, which means everything is alright for me. 🙂 Lovely messages!

    [Reply]

    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Grief bacon!!! Oh, I know that flavour.

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  • Trevor Otto

    This is a really interesting topic as so much of Australian culture is the opposite of cosy, perhaps simply because we have so much Space around us in this vast land. It is something that has and does affect us all unconsciously, as we have all inherited it’s effects. The Australian male in particular suffers from it’s effect and usually suffers from some kind of alienation or feeling of seperation,which may explain the whole ‘shed’ thing. Whenever I go overseas, I find nearly every other country is different in this regard, even in New Zealand people live a lot more ‘together’ and are more social,

    Regards, Trevor

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    Mel Reply:

    Yes I totally agree. I love that desolate isolation we have here in oz. It’s a stark raw beauty but so harsh. It scares me but I also thrive on it. I remember being in a remote spot on a remote island in the gulf of carpentaria and feeling very very small under the ‘sheltering sky’. I remember hearing something that summed up England for me which is : you are never more than a few minutes from a hot cup of tea. Cosy, lovely but so different and I would long to feel the heat and dust.

    [Reply]

    Trevor Otto Reply:

    Well said Mel. I used to thrive on the isolation when I lived in and travelled the bush and to be honest I was never scared of it. But now I am largely re urbanised but only for the time being. I find in the city there is just too much fragmentation and alienation from others and nature,

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  • There are some Scottish words I love – well, actually they’re more Glasgow-based than used in the rest of Scotland. ‘Dreich’, which means gloomy, drizzly, wet (we get a lot of that) and when it’s dreich you often get ‘drookit’, which means soaked through. ‘Glaikit’ means stupid or silly, and if you have a ‘wee blether’ it’s the same as having a little chat. The Glasgwegians being the stoic, down-to-earth types that they are, don’t have many words describing good things, but one that I like is ‘stoater’. If something’s a stoater, it’s clever or attractive or amazing or some other all-round good thing – usually used something like this: ‘that’s a right wee stoater’. I don’t live there any more and sometimes I really miss the local dialect.

    ‘Haimish’ sounds a bit similar to Scots – the word for home is ‘haim’ so it would have the same connotations. I wonder if they have similar roots?

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  • Hello Sarah,

    I love this, because I have been struggling to find words to articulate myself of late. I am finding sanctuary in foreign words which I can freely imbue with my own meaning.

    The word, which I keep coming home to is Dristi (or Drishti). Sanskrit for vision, insight, wisdom, consciousness, pure seeing. In yoga it is the soft focus I maintain on a point to prevent me tumbling to the floor. When I breathe mindfully I feel like I am saying hello to my Dristi, softly, gently, beautifully.

    Drisit is the lens through which I choose Luxurious Simplicity and LIVE LIGHTLY.

    Thank you for helping me clarify my thoughts, once again, and for helping me find these words http://ow.ly/6Ql9p.

    Love izennah xo

    [Reply]

  • Ohhh – I love a new word!! thanks sarah!
    Haimish is a gem!!

    I discovered some new words from a language spoken by the people of Arnham Land where there are no English equivalents…

    Barawun – Rays of sunlight before sunrise
    So beautiful.
    More here with links….

    http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=381090746164351259#editor/target=post;postID=7376436509874892454

    [Reply]

  • Les

    There’s an old Scottish Gaelic word I still use. Goodness knows how it’s spelled, but phonetically it’s “feown”, and it describes the restless feeling of wanting something, but not knowing what. Possibly a snack – I’ll often mutter “I’m feeling feown” and a few minutes later I’ll be browsing in the fridge or cupboard for a little something to satisfy that feeling. Or it might be a wee dram. 😉 Or a walk. Or anything, really.

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  • Elaine

    My favourite word is ‘Selah’, which is Hebrew. It has no definite translation but thought to mean ‘pause and think’ or ‘stop and reflect.’ I am having this tattooed on my forearm as my personality is such that I need to take this advice every day.

    [Reply]

  • courtney

    eunoia – ‘beautiful thinking’ or ‘having a well mind’ = )

    [Reply]

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