From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Lagom is a Swedish word with no direct English equivalent, meaning "just the right amount".

The Lexin Swedish-English dictionary defines lagom as "enough, sufficient, adequate, just right". Lagom is also widely translated as "in moderation", "in balance", "optimal", "suitable", and "average". But whereas words like "sufficient" and "average" suggest some degree of abstinence, scarcity, or failure, lagom carries the connotation of perfection or appropriateness. The archetypical Swedish proverb "Lagom är bäst", literally "Lagom is best", is translated as "Enough is as good as a feast" in the Lexin dictionary. That same proverb is translated as "There is virtue in moderation" in Prismas Stora Engelska Ordbok (1995).


[edit] Other languages

The word "lagom" has no exact translation in English, although similar words exist in some neighboring languages. One of the closest equivalents is the Norwegian word passelig.

"Lagom" ("lugum, lagelig") also exists in Norwegian and is accepted in both Bokmål and Nynorsk. The connotations in Norwegian, however, are somewhat different from Swedish. In Norwegian the word has synonyms as "fitting, suitable, comfortable, nice, decent, well built/proportioned". While some synonyms are somewhat similar in meaning (e.g. "suitable" and "reasonable", "fitting" and "in balance"), many present in Swedish don't seem to exist in Norwegian and vice versa. A closer equivalent in terms of denotation/connotation is the Norwegian word "passelig", which translates more or less as "fitting, adequate, suitable" in English. The concept of 'lagom' is similar to Russian expression 'normal'no' (нормально, literally normally, note that 'normality' doesn't mean being too good or too rich), which indicates sufficient and sustainable state of, e.g., one's livelihood. Often used as answer to the question "how are you?".

[edit] Etymology

The origin of the term is an archaic dative plural form of lag ("law"), in this case referring not necessarily to judicial law but common sense law. A translation of this could be "according to common sense". A popular folk etymology claims that it is a contraction of "laget om" ("around the team"), a phrase used in Viking times to specify how much mead one should drink from the horn as it was passed around in order for everyone to receive a fair share. This story is recounted widely, including on the website of the Swedish Institute.

[edit] Use

Lagom can be used as an adverb, as in the sentence "Han har lagom mycket pengar" (literally "He has lagom much money"). Lagom can also be used as an adjective: "Klänningen var lagom för henne" (literally "The dress was lagom for her"), which would be equivalent to "The dress was suitable enough for her". The adjective form is never inflected.

Lagom can be applied to everything from food and drink to copyright law and carbon dioxide emissions. If asked "How much coffee do you want?" one could say "Lagom, please". The Swedish lawyer Mikael Pawlo concluded: "What we need is lagom copyright protection for computer programs" (2002).

[edit] Cultural significance

The value of "just enough" can be contrasted to the value of "more is better". It is viewed favorably as a sustainable alternative to the hoarding extremes of consumerism: "Why do I need more than two? Det är [It is] lagom" (AtKisson, 2000). It can also be viewed as repressive: "You're not supposed to be too good, or too rich" (Gustavsson, 1995). The lagom mentality has been fingered as a challenge to economic growth and the reason for Sweden's apparent lack of outward patriotism.[citation needed]

In a single word, lagom is said to describe the basis of the Swedish national psyche, one of consensus and equality. In recent times Sweden has developed greater tolerance for risk and failure as a result of severe recession in the early 1990s. Nonetheless, it is still widely considered ideal to be modest and avoid extremes. "My aunt used to hold out her closed fist and say, "How much can you get in this hand? It's much easier to get something in this [open] hand" (Silberman, 2001). "It's the idea that for everything there is the perfect amount: The perfect, and best, amount of food, space, laughter and sadness."

The concept of lagom is similar to that of the Middle Path in Eastern philosophy, and Aristotle's "golden mean" of moderation in Western philosophy.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

Personal tools