By Emily Erickson
Have you ever considered how words make you feel? How some words are much more than mere definitions, but rather, have power to evoke strong imagery or to nestle themselves into the cavity of your chest? Before you sluff me off as a sappy writer, consider the word frumpy.
Hold it in your mouth and allow your mind to wander to the space where imagery flows freely. Be transported into the world of oversized, cat-hair-covered, beige sweaters, of bland oatmeal, of overstretched, overworn pants and fanny packs and the general feeling of lethargy and indifference.
Don’t believe me yet? Try again, but this time with the word phlegm. Say it out loud, paying close attention to the way your mouth feels as you transition from the “e” to the silent “g” to the “m,” and try not to swallow the remaining saliva in your mouth or to clear your throat. See? Words have power.
Words are the building blocks of language, and are the symbols used within a society to transmit culture. They shape day-to-day interaction, facilitate human communication and connection, and depending on the types of words comprising a society’s language, can be deeply reflective of that society’s unique experiences, priorities, and values.
When a region or group of people experience something specific to them, or place unique precedence on an aspect of their lives, there are often words for those things, and for those people, that aren’t present in other languages or situations. These words have cultural relevance.
This cultural relevance can be as simple as a group of hockey players calling long hair “lettuce” or “flow,” calling pretty girls “rockets” or bad skaters “ankle benders.” These words have new meaning within the context of hockey culture, given what that group prioritizes and experiences on a regular basis.
But cultural relevance regarding language can also be understood on a more meaningful level, extending to what a culture chooses to deem as significant or valuable. For example, nordic countries are some of the most naturally beautiful places in the world, and the people that choose live there often have a deep reverence and respect for their surroundings.
Because of the great value within nordic cultures for living in and respecting natural and beautiful spaces, there are words in the nordic languages that reflect that profound reverence. These are incredible words that, despite not having adequate English language counterparts, embody concepts that North Idahoans, living in equally stunning and natural spaces, can readily understand and incorporate into their daily lives.
The first of these words is my personal favorite, the Norwegian Friluftsliv. Directly translated as “free air life,” friluftsliv has deep roots within Norwegian culture, embodying a way of life that is spent exploring freely and appreciating nature. This concept is encouraged through outdoor education in Norwegian school systems, through legislation allowing anyone acting in a respectful manner to freely explore both public and private lands across the country, and through passing down a history of Norway’s symbiotic relationship with nature and the outdoors.
Similarly, the Danish word Hygge is understood as “the good life,” as it relates to the moments in our lives brimming with happiness, with loved ones, with presentness, and in the warmth of beautiful places. It is used to describe anything from the warm glow of a fireplace inside a cozy cabin, to the feeling you get when you’re wearing thick socks, sipping hot coffee, and in the throws of deep conversation with your best of friends.
Next, the Swedish word Gökotta, or “early morning cuckoo,” is the act of waking up early enough in the day to hear the first birds singing. It’s an intentional moment of calm, set aside specifically for morning times, in which Swedish folk prioritize being outside and present in nature.
And lastly, the Icelandic word Sólarfrí, similar to the Sandpoint “powder day,” is an unexpected day off of work or school granted solely because the weather is particularly pleasant, sunny or warm. It is a designated day for appreciating the beauty of nature, understanding that there are always gloomy days ahead in which more work can be done.
Ultimately, words hold great significance in our daily lives, can shape how we feel and how we understand the world around us. When we have words for things, it becomes easier to incorporate the ideas behind them into our everyday lives.
So, here’s to having more hygge than phlegm, and to wishing all of you a friluftsliv-filled fall.
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