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The word can be variously translated as "in moderation", "in balance", "perfect-simple", and "suitable" (in matter of amounts). Whereas words like sufficient and average suggest some degree of abstinence, scarcity, or failure, lagom carries the connotation of appropriateness, although not necessarily perfection. The archetypical Swedish proverb "Lagom är bäst", literally "The right amount is best", is also translated as "Enough is as good as a feast", or as "There is virtue in moderation".
The origin of the term is an archaic dative plural form of lag ("law"), in this case referring not necessarily to judicial law but common sense law. Literally meaning "according to law", a more close translation would be "according to custom" or "according to common sense". The earliest attestations of the word are from 17th century texts.
A common false etymology claims that it is a contraction of "laget om" ("around the team"); according to this myth, the phrase was used in Viking times to specify how much mead one should drink from the horn as it was passed around in order for everyone to receive a fair share.
Lagom is most often used as an adverb, as in the sentence "Han är lagom lång" (literally "He is just the right height"). Lagom can also be used as an adjective: "Klänningen var lagom för henne" (literally "The dress was just right for her"), which would be equivalent to "The dress fits her". The adjective form is never inflected.
The value of "just enough" can be compared to idiom "less is more", or contrasted to the value of "more is better". It is viewed favorably as a sustainable alternative to the hoarding extremes of consumerism: "Why do I need more than two? Det är [It is] lagom" It can also be viewed as repressive: "You're not supposed to be too good, or too rich".
In a single word, lagom is said to describe the basis of the Swedish national psyche, one of consensus and equality. In recent times Sweden has developed greater tolerance for risk and failure as a result of severe recession in the early 1990s. Nonetheless, it is still widely considered ideal to be modest and avoid extremes. "My aunt used to hold out her closed fist and say, "How much can you get in this hand? It's much easier to get something in this [open] hand". "It's the idea that for everything there is the perfect amount: The perfect, and best, amount of food, space, laughter and sadness."
Comparable terms in other languages
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The word "lagom" also exists in Norwegian, in both Bokmål and Nynorsk. The connotations in Norwegian, however, are somewhat different from Swedish. In Norwegian the word has synonyms as "fitting, suitable, comfortable, nice, decent, well built/proportioned". While some synonyms are somewhat similar in meaning (e.g. "suitable" and "reasonable", "fitting" and "in balance"), many present in Swedish do not exist in Norwegian and vice versa. The Norwegian words "passelig" and the more common "passe" are very similar, translating roughly as "fitting, adequate, suitable" in English. "Passe" can be used in every context where the Swedish "lagom" is used, e.g. "passe varm" (right temperature/adequately warm), "passe stor" (right size), etc.
Finnish has the word "Sopivasti", which carries similar connotations of "just right".
The concept of lagom is similar to Russian expression normal'no (нормально, literally normally), which indicates a sufficient and sustainable state, for example of one's livelihood. In Russian, the word is often used as answer to the question "how are you". Comparable terms are found in some south Slavic languages, for example Serbian and Croatian umereno or umjereno.
Ιn ancient Greek, there was the famous phrase of Cleobulus, metron ariston (μέτρον ἄριστον), meaning "moderation [literally: measure] is best".
In Albanian there is the same use of word "taman". The word "taman" derives from Ottoman Turkish "tamam" meaning "precisely", borrowed from Arabic where it means "complete", "perfect". In Albanian is used pretty much the same as "lagom", as in "a taman amount", "not a taman person" (not a normal person), "taman!" (agreed, OK), etc. This word ("taman") is also used in some Slavic languages (South Slavic) and it almost perfectly translates "lagom" to those languages.
- Festina lente
- Goldilocks principle
- Golden ratio
- Social model
- Sweet spot
- Sweden: the Middle Way
- Law of Jante
- The Story of the Three Bears
- Centrism, a political ideology
- Moderation, the process of eliminating or lessening extremes.
- Moderate, a middle position in a left/right political scale
- Mathematical optimization, choosing not too high, not too low values of input parameters in view to maximize or minimize an objective function
- Via media, the philosophy of the 'middle way'
- Wasat (Islamic term)
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