In early January, just as you were easing yourself into a stultifying hygge double act of cashmere socks and flammable yet costly slanket (a blanket with sleeves, essentially); a Diptyque candle burning nearby, a Soho Home cushion beneath your steaming buttocks; just as you pressed pause on the latest Scandi noir, you received an urgent bulletin via the BBC. Hygge – I don’t need to tell you again that it’s pronounced ‘hoogay’ – is dead, they said. Long live ‘lagom’, pronounced the Beeb. You are instantly engaged. Tossing the slanket aside, you immediately drop to the floor for a spot of meditation; for lagom is all about balance and contentment (directly translated it means, ‘not too much, not too little’.) It’s less about that fusty, germy warmth you praised yourself for so effortlessly cultivating up on the sofa for the past six months and more about synchronicity.
Within seconds of the BBC announcing this huge new lifestyle change, a slew of publications announced their take on lagom. US Vogue championed lagom as ‘a frugal yet fruitful existence’ allowing you to chime with ‘the current state of the world’. The Bristol-based couple who founded a magazine called Lagom in 2014, now the central reference in many of these lifestyle features, could scarcely believe their luck.
Lagom is just the second in a cavernous canon of Danish words that are ripe for Brits to mine and most likely bastardise. ‘Fika’, meaning ‘coffee break’, has been a concept unfurling at a slower but no less meaningful pace than hygge. And according to The Times, there are masses more to come: ‘bolfud’ (serving food in small bowls, also known as, um, tapas), ‘bergmanfilm’ (moody meditativeness), ‘morgenfrisk’ (being perky in the mornings – hence, presumably, the ‘frisk’), ‘sisu’ (being hardy and brave – I predict that teenage girls will adopt this as the new ‘sassy’, for example, ‘You’re sooooo sisu, babes!’) and lastly, ‘bagstiv’ (still drunk from the night before.) I will reluctantly admit that I am quite taken with bagstiv. That unnerving physical state has been left unnamed for too long.
Lagom is not without value; it nods to the sustainability that Scandinavians have historically incorporated so fluently into their lifestyle. It is hard to be cynical about IKEA’s project, Live LAGOM, which aims to make sustainable living a sexier prospect to those who think water and energy waste is too boring to tackle.
No, it is not the sentiment I have a problem with, but the increasing need to dub simple enterprises with often but not always foreign names (indeed, this epidemic exists outside and beyond pilfered Danish and Swedish words) in order to find them attractive, only in order to bleat on and on about them until we feel forced to murder both the concept and movement.
We have become a culture obsessed with lang-geist – where random words are co-opted to denote zeitgeisty lifestyle movements. (If you don’t see the implicit irony in my creation of that portmanteau, then I fear this piece may not be for you.) Of course, the lang-geist could not exist without the internet and social media enabling said buzzwords to spread like wild fire.
For me, it all started in the mid-noughties, with ‘chillaxing’. Then a sixth former, I recall being both bemused and horrified as the word became legitimate yoof-speak for ‘doing sod all’. It became an adolescent’s guaranteed get-out-of-loser-ville card; being squished between your parents watching Midsomer Murders, you could simply update your BBM status to ‘chillaxing’ and thus instantly upgrade your less than cool current state. Chillaxing, incidentally, pre-empted the now popular cultural movement, ‘Netflix and chill’. Also known as, sitting on your bed watching a tiny telly.
Clean-eating is an example of a lang-geist fallen out of favour. Loved until it was loathed, even Deliciously Ella now hates it. It is, in short, a dirty word. Say it out loud in Wholefoods at your peril. And there in lies the rub: in the same way that we build up young female celebrities with rabid zeal, only to cull them when they fall short of our puritan expectations (Sienna for having a dalliance with a man who left his wife; Miley for sharing a stage with Robin Thicke; Taylor for her girl squad, her boyfriends and her no-show at the women’s marches), we pick up and drop these cultural buzzwords with the loyalty of a truculent three-year-old. We embarrass ourselves time and time again for buying into these movements, only to diss them when they are no longer trendy. Whether it’s a roaring fire, or a bowl of kale, we have become homogenous sheep who need to sign-post everything meaningful, so that by the end, there is little meaning left at all.
Pop culture is nothing new and thank goodness, for I would have little to write about if it wasn’t. But bingeing on Stranger Things because Twitter is abuzz (and wait, have you watched The OA yet?) is a league apart from renaming perfectly good words with foreign or invented ones. Hygge sounded just fine when you call it ‘being cosy’ (an age-old good idea, come winter); just like lagom has long been a valid concept in the guise of ‘balance’. I can’t imagine how amusing the Scandis find it all.