Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The quest is over

I've found it! At last! And of course, you are all asking what this great discovery might be. In truth it probably doesn't sound very exciting, but to me it's the answer - well almost - to a question that's been nagging at me ever since I came to the Netherlands.

The question is this: how does the Dutch word gezellig translate into English?

It's a question that many of us English imports ponder as it's such a great word, and it covers so many situations. You can be gezellig with your friends, or have a gezellig house. You can also find the atmosphere somewhere very gezellig, and gezelligheid is something to aim for when creating urban dwellings and their environs.

You've probably got the idea by now, yes? Well, no. We've tried all sorts of possible adjectives to describe the obviously pleasant feelings attached to being gezellig.

For example, there's 'cozy', but tell your corporate friends their conference is cozy...hmmm, I don't think so. On the other hand, your house can be cozy, yes, but a wild and wonderful party? Perhaps not.

Well what about atmospheric? The same applies.."I went to such an atmsopheric party last week...". Not quite hey? Then there are others, such as friendly, charming, comfortable etc but none of them works in every situation.

Then last night, I found the truth. I thought so, anyway. In a marvellous moment of sheer enlightenment. I was teaching a class of business students, and at the end of the lesson one of them said he'd heard this word used last week and wondered what it meant. Scratching through his note book, he carefully read out the word 'conviviality'. I looked at him, I thought for a moment and then I smiled the smile of one who has found the meaning of life itself.

"Willem," I said "it means gezelligheid, and when you find yourself in convivial company, that's the same as finding it gezellig."
"Aaah," he said, sharing the sweetness of the moment. "I've often wondered what word to use for gezellig."

Now, though, I'm sitting here, imagining Willem's future with his newly acquired language skill and insight. Our Willem will be going to people's houses, and looking around admiringly, he will say "hmmm, very convivial, what!"

Okay, I agree. It does sound a bit pompous doesn't it? It may well be true,of course, but not really what you'd say to your bosom buddies and life long friends, and after all, can a room itself be.....?

Maybe the quest isn't quite over yet.

Does anyone out there know the informal word for convivial?


  1. Brilliant essay, Val, and entertaining too.

    Re your question "Does anyone out there know the informal word for convivial?": we have exported words before, like dijk (dyke), bolwerk (bulwark) and stuurboord (starboard), so why don't we do the same with gezellig (ghazelly)?

  2. Oh, I like Koos solution, how would that be pronounced, please?

  3. The beauty of language is that some nuances just don't translate.


  4. It's true that some words and nuances just don't translate. I like my steak "A point" - but only the French understand what that means.

    The Inuit in northern Canada have about 12 words for snow.

  5. I have had this conversation so many times with my girlfriend. Neither of us has come close to finding a word so I think this sounds like the best on yet.

  6. Koosje, I think that's a great idea, but I'd either drop the g or the h. There's no point in having both cos no one will know to pronounce it the Dutch way anyway!

    String, I'd use either a hard g or just an h (which is closer to the Dutch)

    You're right of course, Anne Marie, and yes Tim, language is wonderful.

    Leslie, what does it mean? Now I'm really curious!

    Stu, I'm glad you've been through this too. It's quite frustrating isn't it? You want to give them a good English alternative, but it's really hard to find. Convivial covers a lot of the situations, tho, doesn't it?

  7. "Welcoming"?

    For instance, the German word, "schvung" (sp?)... We use it all the time here in our horsey circles to describe a certain desirable equine attribute.
    I'm English, but don't ask me to explain it in English - there is no English word!


    I am speaking a lot of French right now at my folk's in Quebec and Beth is keeping me on my toes by asking "what does this and that mean"?
    Sometimes there is no literal translation.


  8. OK, I'll go with Koos' "ghazelly" (although it sounds a bit antelopey...) I will take it a step farther and inquire upon which syllables are stressed.


  9. lol - a point means between medium rare and medium. It's at the point where it turns from red to pink. A little less than medium, and a little more than medium rare. Hard to describe of course ;-)

    Some people in English describe it differently. However, whenever in France or Quebec when I order this way - its just the way I like it. When I describe it in English in Toronto is rarely turns out the way I like it.


  10. Ah yes, Dale, welcoming is definitely one of the options we use, but Anne Marie is right, nuances are impossible to translate, and I think English defines things more precisely anyway because of the eclectic nature of the language. We have so many more adjectives that just one word cannot cover all the situations that gezellig does.

    Alors, tu parles beaucoup de Francais à ce moment? Je dois pratiquer le mien avec vous ;)

    Aha, Lesley, now I understand...it means sort of 'at the point of being done' what ever one interprets 'done' as being, yes?

  11. Hi Val,

    here are the translation:

    gezellig (binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek, gedrag, behaaglijk, algemeen)

    angenehm (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) behaglich (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur) bequem (algemeen) freundlich (gesprek) freundschaftlich (gesprek) gemütlich (algemeen, binnenhuisarchitectuur) gesellig (gedrag, gesprek) komfortabel (behaaglijk) stimmungsvoll (binnenhuisarchitectuur) umgänglich (gedrag) wohnlich (behaaglijk)

    attractive (binnenhuisarchitectuur) comfortable (behaaglijk) comfortably (algemeen) companionable (gedrag) convivial (gedrag) cosy (behaaglijk, gesprek) cozy (behaaglijk) folksy (gedrag) friendly (gesprek) homelike (behaaglijk) homey

    one word and such a lot of translations.


  12. Val, I think you need some more:

    agréable (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) amical (gedrag) amicale (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) attrayant (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) bien à l'aise (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) charmant (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) confortable (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) confortablement (algemeen) convivial (gedrag) gentil (gedrag) liant (gedrag) sociable (gedrag) sympathique (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek)

    affabile (gedrag) affascinante (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) allegro (gedrag) amichevole (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gedrag, gesprek) attraente (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) cameratesco (gedrag) comodamente (algemeen) comodo (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) confortevole (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) gentile (gedrag) gioviale (gedrag) gradevole (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) piacevole (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) socievole (gedrag)

    a gusto (algemeen) acogedor (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) afable (gedrag) agradable (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) amigable (gedrag) amistoso (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gedrag, gesprek) atractivo (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) con mucho ambiente (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) confortable (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) cómodamente (algemeen) cómodo (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) familiar (gedrag) festivo (gedrag) jovial (gedrag) sociable (gedrag)

    afável (gedrag) agradável (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) amigo (gedrag) aprazível (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) atraente (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) com personalidade (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) com uma atmosfera especial (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) confortavelmente (algemeen) confortável (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) cômodo (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) dado (gedrag) prazeroso (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) sociável (gedrag)

    angenäm (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) behaglig (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) bekväm (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) bekvämt (algemeen) gemytlig (gedrag) hemtrevlig (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) intagande (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) jovialisk (gedrag) kamratlig (gedrag) komfortabel (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) komfortabelt (algemeen) med atmosfär (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) skön (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) sympatisk (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) sällskaplig (gedrag) trevlig (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek) vänlig (behaaglijk, binnenhuisarchitectuur, gesprek)

  13. Stefan!!! That's unbelievable!!! Where on earth did you find all these. It must have been a monster dictionary ;)

    As you say, one little word, and sooooooo many meanings. Now i'm in more doubt than ever before ;-P

  14. I think Stefan covered it there Val. both words are new to me, I would've had to have googled to find them! So many words in so many languages to share a meaning.
    Thnx for your lovely comment. xo

  15. Good morning Val,

    here you can find the words:


    Have a good day.


  16. Thank you Stefan! I was very amused, I promise you that! Even so, I am surprised there are quite as many translations.

    I shall visit that website soon. Today I am off to Pisa in Italy for the weekend.

    Grace, yes, I think he does cover them all, doesn't he ;)

  17. Hi Val,

    have a fantastic time in Italy. I visited Pisa years ago.


  18. Yep. All though I did have to look it up because I had never heard the word before :p

  19. lol Stephan!

    I've never seen you so "wordy"!


  20. Have fun in Italy, Val!
    I just finished reading "Angels and Demons" by Dan Brown, which takes place at Vatican City.
    I had fun reading all the Italian and was surprised that I understood it so well...
    Oh, those Romance languages!


  21. Thanks Stefan, I had a really great time in italy..... but more about that later

    Lol, Stu, I've just come back from a long weekend in Italy and had forgotten what we were 'talking' about. Just had to scroll back through all Stefan's translations to find it was the word itself - convivial.

    Dale, I had a wonderful weekend, but will blog about it soon. I didn't go Rome, but managed Pisa, Livorno, Florence and Lucca in my four days. The trains in Italy are great, so it made getting around really cheap and easy. Pisa was absolutely my favourite place, but you'll hear why later!

  22. Wikkid post. Innit. ;)

  23. The word on da street and in da 'hood:
    "Wikkid conference, man!"
    "Wikkid house!"
    "We 'ad a wikkid time!"
    "Respek! A wikkid post!"
    Courtesy of someone close to me. :)

  24. Would love to comment but can't - except nice blog! I am flat out learning French (rather badly I might add!) :-)


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