February 24, 2006


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lagom is a Swedish word with no direct English equivalent.

The Lexin Swedish-English dictionary defines lagom as "enough, sufficient, adequate, just right." Lagom is also widely translated as "in moderation," "in balance," "optimal," "reasonable," and "average." But whereas words like "sufficient" and "average" suggest some degree of abstinence, scarcity, or failure, lagom decidedly 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.

According to common folklore, "lagom" 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. Both the Swedish Language Council and the Swedish Academy, however, cite the true etymology of lagom as being from the word "lag" ("law"), in this case referring not necessarily to judicial law but common sense law, with the archaic dative plural ending "-om."

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 alldeles lagom åt henne" (literally "The dress was entirely lagom 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).

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). Lagom has been fingered as a challenge to economic growth and the reason for Sweden's apparent lack of outward patriotism.

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, avoid extremes, and seek optimal solutions. "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

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.

located and suggested by Richard Spencer

Posted by dwaber at 01:37 PM