Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Swenglish lesson# 1: Lagom

Swedes will be sure to tell you about this wonderful word 'Lagom' as you begin to learn Swedish. Lagom, they claim, is untranslatable. It is the essence of Swedish. No word in English comes close to grasp the beauty that is Lagom.

OK. So for starters – what is Lagom? To be honest this can be difficult to pin down. My Swedish better half and I argue about it now and then. Lagom to me means 'a middle amount which is not too much or not too little'. Think Goldilocks and the three bears – Lagom is like baby bear.

If the American dream is 'you too can have it all' the Swedish dream is 'you too can be Lagom.'

Thus, I occasionally will exclaim 'goddamn I hate lagom – lets bust it up and go for the gold' In which case my husband rolls his eyes because a) I don't usually talk like that and b) he insists my lagom is just bigger, thus I cannot escape Lagom. So according to my hubby, Pappa bear's bed is lagom for Pappa bear and Mamma bear's bed is Lagom for Mamma bear.

Total Crap I say. Because here is one of the Lagom myths they spread around Sweden. I think it backs up my argument. But maybe the Swedes are on to something. Maybe Lagom is something special to Swedish. I have to say, I think English can get by without it.

The story of Lagom.

Lagom is an old viking tradition. Back in the day the vikings would fill up one giant beer glass and set it on the table. Each strong viking male would take a swig of the beer and pass it on to his compadre. The idea was that there should be enough beer to last an entire round of the table. Each viking should have his lagom share. If the beer ran out, one of the Vikings had drunk too much. If there was beer left over, one of the vikings had not drunk enough. But, since Vikings are the archetypical Swedes, more often than not, they drank just lagom.

But then they sailed to America. And they each got their own beer mugs.

1 comment:

  1. The common viking etymology of "lagom" is a myth. From Wikipedia:

    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.