Word of the Week: Gemütlichkeit

Mar 11, 2011

© colourbox Enlarge image (© colourbox) Over the course of the year, Germany.info and The Week in Germany will highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.

Gemütlichkeit

"Look for the bare necessities                                    

The simple bare necessities

Forget about your worries and your strife

I mean the bare necessities

Old Mother Nature's recipes

That brings the bare necessities of life."  - © Disney

Many people are familiar with this song from the famous 1967 Walt Disney movie "The Jungle Book".

"Bare Necessities" was translated into German as "Probier's mal mit Gemütlichkeit," which roughly means "Just try it with coziness". However, the accuracy of this translation is debatable. "Bare necessities" translates to Lebensnotwendigeiten in German and does not exactly have the same connotation with respect to the imperatives in life. But it shows how varied and vague the definition of the term Gemütlichkeit actually is.

Gemütlichkeit or "coziness" is an abstract noun used to describe a feeling, so individual perception plays a significant role in determining the definition. If asked for an illustrated depiction of Gemütlichkeit most Germans would probably picture something like a well-heated, nicely furnished room with a fireplace on a cold and rainy day and a good book. But it means more than just a description of a place. It also connotates a strong notion of social belonging, a sense of well-being or simply the lack of hecticness and uneasiness.

One could say that the term is also multi-layered, in the sense that it can be applied on a public as well as on a private scale. Very open and crowded places, for example an evening spent at the Christmas Market, can be just as gemütlich or cozy as the silent comfort of one's own living room.

For the lack of a better English word, Gemütlichkeit has found its way into the English language. Queen Victoria is said to have been the first English native to use the term in the form of the adjective gemütlich. If her idea correlated more closely with Balu the Bear's or with the association of an eased Sunday at home remains unknown, but we know that Gemütlichkeit can actually be found anywhere. And that is a very "cozy" thing to keep in mind.

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