Saturday, April 7, 2012

A to Z: Gezellig, the untranslatable word





Gezellig is the essence of Dutch culture--and it's untranslatable.

The difficulty starts with the pronunciation. Dutch has a few sounds that are a mystery to us English speakers--the funky ui sound, for example, that's made by shaping your mouth as if you were going to say oo but then saying ee (as in eerie). If you speak French, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't... Give it a shot. Funky, ain't it?


The other famous Dutch sound is the G.

Imagine you're a dog--maybe a grizzly. Now growl. Yep, that's it--the G sound in Dutch. Way back in your throat, so harsh it makes it hurt. Yeah--now you got it.

So--gezellig. Pronunciation: growl+eh+ZEH+leh+growl.

Takes practice. If you want to hear this word and others you can go to this site and get an earful.

You've got it down pat now? Gezellig!

Gezellig literally means nice, cozy. But it's also used for something that's fun, or for good times. It implies belonging, togetherness, in ways that are much more than just fun. It also conveys a certain quaintness--sometimes.

A person can be gezellig--friendly, likable, or maybe just fun. An evening can be gezellig, but so can a job. A living room is gezellig if it looks like the picture on the left.

But if it looks like the image on the right, then it's ongezellig (un-gezellig).

An evening out with your favorite people is gezellig, but not if you get mugged, or run out of gas in a lonely stretch of highway. Then again, if you're stranded on a lonely highway with gezellig friends, a couple of memory-lane CDs you all know by heart, and a cooler of beer to make you sing at the top of your voice (and it's not pouring rain), the evening might turn out gezellig after all.


As if it wasn't complicated enough already, and in keeping with the true Dutch spirit of irony, sometimes gezellig is just a synonym for "slow, old, and resistant to change" (source: Boom! Boom Chicago's guide to Amsterdam, available in gezellige stores throughout the city).

Gezellige weekend, everyone!

39 comments :

  1. What a great word. Thank you.
    karen

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    1. Glad you liked it, Karen :) Thanks for the visit!

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  2. How cool that I found your blog! My tween is doing a report on the Netherlands and here is a great word to add to her presentation!
    Thank you!
    -r

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    1. I love synchronicity, Rachee :) Tomorrow, for the H post, I'm doing Holland, especially for you and your tween :)

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    2. My kid is working on her report and we LOVE the beautiful pictures you have shared. Thank you!
      -r

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  3. And people wonder why it's sometimes so hard to learn a new language! There are so many words like that, that have double (or triple, or quadruple, etc) meanings. It can be difficult to keep it all straight. Very interesting, thanks for sharing!

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    1. Lordy, yes! Every language has its challenges, but for me (and I speak three already) Dutch has been the hardest. They have more exceptions than rules--where's the logic behind that? :D

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. Hahahahaa..... zooo herkenbaar! Erg grappig geschreven ;-)

    Hugs,
    Ad

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    1. Glad you liked the piece, Ad! Thanks for the visit, and for the Dutch impossible-to-make sounds for the rest of the visitors :D

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  5. Well, you learn something new every day. Love this post and I did attempt the pronunciation, but struggled with the growling I'm afraid! Thanks for sharing and teaching me something new.

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    1. Haha--yes, that ggggg sound is ridiculously difficult to make, let alone master. After 9 years living surrounded by Dutch, I still can't. Don't feel bad--give yourself a hearty clap on the back for trying, though!

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  6. Yes I know about those sounds, after living in Holland for three years on and off... I think I quite got the hang of them while I was there. My native language can be harsh too, and I understand that guttural sound. Very unique, really ... although Dutch, I think, is rather more musical, softer, than its sister, the German language. Great post! You are gezellig too :D x

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    1. You lived in Holland?? How come I didn't know that? Yes, it takes practice--especially that rough gggg sound. Glad to hear you mastered it! After 9 years in Curacao I still struggle (and end up with a sore throat each time I struggle too much). You're right about the Dutch vs. German thing: even though German doesn't have the guttural gggg, it does sound a lot more clipped and--I don't know, tight? than Dutch. Thank you for saying I'm *gezellig* :D

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  7. Cool post! I mentioned it on my blog today. Holly

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    1. Thanks, Holly! I noticed, and I'm effervescently thankful :D Your post on Goa today is pretty awesome, too!

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  8. I always love a new word. Thanks, and you have a gezellige weekend, too.

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  9. Great Letter 'G' post....a word with a number of applications. You certainly seem to fit 'gezellig'as a friendly and fun Gal. I'm so glad to now be able to add a Dutch to my Linguistic Collection...even if I can't growl it very well. I do much better with Spanish.

    I saw your 'G'Post on the A-Z Facebook. Glad you posted it there...mine is as well. Hope you can stop by CollectInTexas Gal and read about my Great Grandfather's Civil War History....Sue

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    1. Thanks, Sue! The fact that you consider me *gezellig* has made my day :) Thanks for stopping by, and I'm heading over to your blog now to check that story out--I loooove history!

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  10. I can't even roll my rrrrrr's, but I promise to keep practicing!

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    1. Haha--Jenn, it's a tough one. Give yourself a hand for trying!

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  11. Excellent description. It's like gemutlichkeit in German (with umlaut over the u). English doesn't really have a word for this. Does that say something about our culture?

    Play off the Page

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    1. I don't speak German, so I ask my Dutch boyfriend (who's sitting across the table from me, working on his own laptop) about *gemutlichkeit*--I'm not even done attempting my warped pronunciation when he says it out loud, sounding like a Prussian officer. "What does it mean?" I ask. He laughs. "Gezellig," he says.

      Apparently, Mary, you got it just right :)

      I think every language, including English, has words unique to it. I just can't think of any in English right now :D

      Thanks for stopping by and for following! Look forward to more *gezellige* or *gemutlich* conversations!

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  12. Loved your post today. I grew up in Leefdall, Belgium, and I don't get to hear Nederlands spoken anymore. Your blog is beautiful.

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    1. Thank you, Janna, and thanks for stopping by! Tomorrow the post is H for Holland, so maybe I can make you reminisce a bit more (although I know how different Belgium is from NL :D).

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  13. LOL I was born elsewhere too and there are some words that just don't translate into english. At least now without losing most of the meaning.

    Sonia Lal, A to Z challenge

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  14. That must be one of the perfect untranslatable words. One of the pleasures of learning new languages is discovering these little gems of meaning that just don't come up in tourist handbooks that often. It's especially nice when the word has such common applications, like coziness, as opposed to a word that describes the special characteristics of, say, the local four-foot-long rodent or something.

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  15. Good to use a new word once in a while. I'm over from the A to Z challenge to say hi.

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  16. So I'm practising your word over here at the kitchen table and my husband says, "What are you growling about?"
    hehehehehe

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  17. Nuances in meaning are wonderful, aren't they? Thanks for the great word... I'm not sure I'll attempt to use it though. My partner is from Scotland, and I don't even know how many times he's tried to teach me how to say "Edinburgh" correctly and I still can't get it right. LOL

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  18. Even with all my nice practice, I'm failing at saying that. But it's so fun to try.

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  19. It sounds like ideal. And for the one resistant to change, idealistic.

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  20. Very cool how cultures have varying conceptual pictures of life, wrapped up in a single word. Here, it would be:

    "Gezellig!"

    "Gesundheit!"

    I think I will be gezellig today. People will like me.

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  21. Nice word. I think I'll try to use it in conversation, although I probably won't pronounce it right. It's interesting how languages have words that can't easily be translated into one word in another language - like zeitgeist, that's just infiltrated English without being changed.

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  22. Hi...I'm hopping over from the A to Z challenge. Lovely post...good luck with the challenge.

    Donna L Martin
    www.donasdays.blogspot.com

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  23. Wow, fab, how interesting! I LOVE hearing about words from other languages and cultures that we don't have, and this is a wonderful one. I wish I could use it!

    In case you are interested, I'm leaving you my A-Z link as blogger
    always identifies me as my shared blog with other poets - my A-Z is this one: http://www.lizbrownleepoet.com

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  24. What a fantastic sentiment--am not even going to attempt speaking this!

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  25. Love your blog!

    In Flanders (the Dutch speaking part of Belgium) we pronounce "Gezellig" differently.

    We use, what we call, a "soft G". This is not a growling G, but sounds more like a static sound (or something like that).

    Even in the south of the Netherlands, they use this "soft G". Same language different pronunciation!

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