Lagom

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Lagom (pronounced [ˈlɑ̀ːɡɔm]) is a Swedish word with no direct English equivalent, meaning "just the right amount".

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Pronunciation of lagom. Then the sentence "det är lagom temperatur" meaning "it's just the right temperature". The speaker is a 35 year old male.

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Pronunciation of lagom. Male speaker.

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The Lexin Swedish-English dictionary defines lagom as "enough, sufficient, adequate, just right". Lagom is also widely translated as "in moderation", "in balance", "perfect-simple", "optimal" and "suitable" (in matter of amounts). Whereas words like "sufficient" and "average" suggest some degree of abstinence, scarcity, or failure, lagom carries the connotation of appropriateness, although not necessarily perfection. The archetypical Swedish proverb "Lagom är bäst", literally "The right amount 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).

Comparable terms in other languages[edit]

The word "lagom" also exists in Norwegian, 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 exist in Norwegian and vice versa. The Norwegian words "passelig" and the more common "passe" are very similar, translating roughly as "fitting, adequate, suitable" in English. "Passe" can be used in every context where the Swedish "lagom" is used, e.g. "passe varm" (right temperature/adequately warm), "passe stor" (right size), etc.

The concept of 'lagom' is similar to Russian expression 'normal'no' (нормально, literally normally), which indicates a sufficient and sustainable state, for example of one's livelihood. In Russian, the word is often used as answer to the question "how are you". Comparable terms are found in some south Slavic languages, for example Serbian and Croatian umereno or umjereno.

In Kannada, the word ಹದ [1] (hada) is used in a similar connotation.

Ιn ancient Greek, there was the infamous phrase of Cleobulus, 'Métron áriston' (μέτρον ἄριστον) i.e.: "Moderation is best"

Etymology[edit]

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.

Parallels can be drawn from "lagom" to the Law of Jante, which in short says that a group member shouldn't think they are better than anyone else, which indicates that "lagom" could mean "the appropriate amount, according to the Law of Jante," for example, the phrase "take lagom with sugar" would mean "don't take more sugar than one should."

Use[edit]

Lagom is most often used as an adverb, as in the sentence "Han är lagom lång" (literally "He is just the right height"). Lagom can also be used as an adjective: "Klänningen var lagom för henne" (literally "The dress was just right for her"), which would be equivalent to "The dress fits her". The adjective form is never inflected.

Lagom can be applied to almost all situations, from food and drink to copyright law and carbon dioxide emissions.

Cultural significance[edit]

The value of "just enough" can be compared to idiom "less is more", or 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).

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.[citation needed] "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."

See also[edit]

References[edit]