In a nutshell, Lagom is a unique Swedish word that you can’t really find in English.
Essentially, it means “just right”. Sweden has a long tradition of Jantelagen which focuses on not taking too much and knowing your place. There is a great book by Peter Berlin called “Xenophobes guide to the Swedes“. He has a great history of the word and suggests it comes from the Viking times.
From his research, he claims that the Vikings would sit around the camp fire and pass a horn of mead around the warriors. It became a matter of honour to take just a swig and pass the mead around the team, or laget om, so everyone got their fair share. Since then, the word was shortened to lagom but kept its original meaning.
You know in the “Goldilocks And The Three Bears” story, the third bear takes the porridge that was not too hot and not too cold but just right…that’s lagom. Not too little, not too much. Just the perfect amount.
This is one of the things that separates Sweden in modern society. As countries like the USA and the UK take consumerism to the next level, Sweden is taking “what it needs/lagom mycket” and nothing else.
The middle ground between mediocre and good, just about perfect if you don’t want actual perfection, neither good nor bad, the quantum average that’s always approaching above average but never quite there, so-so but pretty good, almost three-quarters awesome.
In everyday language, most Swedes use lagom as an answer and response rather than a description.
This is one of the most Swedish things about Sweden. What do you think? And if you are learning Swedish, try adding lagom into your vocabulary.
Resources and Further Reading
Photo Credits: Per-Erik Berglund/imagebank.sweden.se