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Gezelligheid (Dutch pronunciation: [ɣəˈzɛləɣɦɛit]) is a Dutch abstract noun (adjective form gezellig) which, depending on context, can be translated as convivial, cosy, fun, quaint, or nice atmosphere, but can also connote belonging, time spent with loved ones, the fact of seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness that gives a warm feeling.
The only common trait to all descriptions of gezelligheid is a rather general and abstract sensation of individual well-being that one typically shares with others. All descriptions involve a positive atmosphere, flow or vibe that colors the individual personal experience in a favorable way and in one way or another corresponds to social contexts.
As this is a very vague and abstract notion, the word is considered to be an example of untranslatability, and is one of the hardest words to translate to English. Some consider the word to encompass the heart of Dutch culture.
The word derives from gezel which means companion or friend. During the Middle Ages a gezel was also the Dutch term for a journeyman, which in the Dutch guild system formed a group around a single Master craftsman; hence the added meaning of belonging.
The adjective gezellig can be used in a wide variety of situations. For example;
- A room can be gezellig. (meaning cosy or inviting)
- A person can be gezellig. (meaning entertaining or pleasant)
- A party can be gezellig. (meaning fun)
- A visit to ones grandparents can be gezellig. (meaning togetherness)
- The Danish word hygge [ˈhyɡə]) is very close in meaning. Etymologically, it is related to the Dutch word "heugen", meaning to make happy.
- The German term Gemütlichkeit (of which "gemoedelijkheid" is its Dutch cognate), invoking cosiness and comfort and which has also been adopted by the English language, covers some of the possible meanings of gezellig, but not all. Although the German term Geselligkeit does look a lot like the Dutch word, it has a different meaning.
- The Yiddish word heimishe.
- BBC article on untranslatability
- Seth Stevenson, "The Quest for Gezellig," in "Should I Move to Amsterdam," Slate 23, Aug, 2005, available at http://www.slate.com/id/2124561/entry/2124563. See also "Gezellig — a word that encompasses the heart of Dutch Culture," at http://www.dutchamsterdam.nl/155-gezellig
- Van Dale etymologisch woordenboek
- All examples given come from the book The Undutchables, by C. White.