What is lagom?
Lagom is the Swedish expression for “in moderation”, “just right” or “not too much and not too little”, as the Swedes use to reply to this question with their sweet Swedish accent.
Swedes believe having a word that describes “in moderation” is unique, that no other language in the world has. But, sorry Swedes, that’s not correct. There are several languages that offer words with a similar meaning.
For example: Norwegian: passelig; Danish: tilpas; Serbo-Croatian: taman; Estonian: paras; Thai:พอเพียง – phor phiang; Japanese: 丁度, chōdo.
When to say lagom
Lagom can mean different things in different contexts.
- Positive “lagom varm”, “perfectly warm”
- Negative “lagom kul att jag brutit benen”, can be translated to “not cool that I broke my leg”
- Ironical “han är ju lagom smart“, meaning “he is not the smartest”
The lagom story
Many Swedes believe the myth that the word lagom comes from the old times when most Swedes were farmers or Vikings, and drinking from the same horn or bowl. When they handed it around in circles, they tried to make sure that everyone gets their fair share, laget om, around the whole team.
But in reality the word lagom derives from laghum, meaning according to law.
As a new-Swede, you’re supposed to explain the other Sweden-arrivals, whenever they ask you about the meaning of lagom, that it originates from that Viking drinking situation.
Learn more about Swedish culture and quirks, read: How to be Swedish: A Quick Guide to Swedishness – In 55 Steps