Do You Need Hygge?

By Elaine Viets

The English language is expanding faster than waistlines during quarantine. This year, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary has added another 520 new words.
English is a living language, so growth is good. Or as Webster says:
“The words we use—if they are new or relatively new—are the words we need to express and explain our world. If these words then also become widely used, it becomes the dictionary’s job to explain this use.”
The new crop includes words and abbreviations I’ve never used – including “hygge” and “ASMR.”
And words I hope we’ll never use, like the clunky “decarceration.”
Plus words that we’ve been using long before Webster got wise to them, including “silver fox.” (George Clooney, anyone?)

So what’s “ASMR”? It’s short for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” Uh, right. That clears it up. This example from Webster explains it better:
“It might sound like a bafflingly bizarre way to spend time on the internet. But for Maria’s viewers, her voice and movements hold a certain magic: they can instill tranquility, overcome insomnia—and induce a mysterious physical sensation known as … ‘ASMR’, wherein the body is flooded with waves of euphoric tingles.”
“Hygge” sounds like a type of Scandinavian salt fish. It’s actually a Danish word, meaning “a cozy quality that makes a person feel content and comfortable.”
Here’s how the dictionary says it’s used: “During the long, dark winters when Danes retreat inside their homes, ‘hygge’ is what brings them a great sense of comfort and joy.” It’s sort of pronounced like “hugh-ga.”

“Hygge” and “ASMR” were used a lot in the past year, when we needed comfort. At least, that’s what Webster said. My friends used other comfort words, such as “Ben & Jerry’s” and “Johnnie Walker.”
Thanks to Covid, old words have taken on new meanings. “Long hauler” is not just an over-the-road trucker. Webster says it’s now “a person who experiences one or more long-term effects following initial improvement or recovery from a serious illness (such as COVID-19).”

“Pod” and “bubble” both gained new meanings. A “pod” is a small group of friends, relatives or co-workers that we can safely socialize with and avoid spreading COVID. Now that all my friends are vaccinated, my “pod” had an indoor party without masks.

Any sports fan knows the new meaning of “bubble.” Sports Washington wrote:

“To avoid COVID-19 infection, the NBA and NHL instituted strict ‘bubbles’ where players, coaches, media and staff are sequestered away from the general public. Major League Baseball . . . instead is asking its players to be responsible as they travel the country for games. It’s not working well, and in the case of the Miami Marlins, it’s been awful.”
Most of us are aware of the new words in corporate speak:
“Hard pass” is a firm refusal.

“‘Makerspace’ is a communal public workshop where makers – including artists, painters, jewelry designers – can work on small personal projects.
But don’t confuse “makerspace” with “coworking.” That means people are working in a building with many different kinds of tenants, including new start-ups, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits. These tenants rent their work space and use communal facilities.

I don’t have to explain “crowdfunding” or “gig worker.” You already know those words.

“Decarceration” is a new word that I wish would go away. It means “to release from prison” or to reduce the number of people housed by the “prison industrial complex” – and those three words are another new term. “Decarceration” ranks right up there with “deplane” as one of my most hated words.

“Second Gentleman” has been around since 1976, but Webster finally made it official after the 2020 election, when Kamala Harris was elected Vice President and her husband, Douglas Craig Emhoff, became the first Second Gentleman of the United States.
Wanna know my favorite new word?
That means you’re attracted to smart people.

Love words? Logophiles can sign up for Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day here: It’s free.

Enjoy forensic mysteries? Kirkus says this about DEATH GRIP, my new Angela Richman mystery: “Viets produces chills with a murder hunt turned on its head.” Buy it here:

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About Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 30 mysteries in four series, including 15 Dead-End Job mysteries. BRAIN STORM, her first Angela Richman, Death Investigator mystery, is published as a trade paperback, e-book, and audio book.

36 thoughts on “Do You Need Hygge?

  1. Thanks for the education, Elaine. Very interesting. I don’t get out much, so now you’ve brought me up to speed with my vocabulary.

    I have a new word for you. “Postghost” It’s a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t post, like this morning when I swear I saw Garry’s post following yours. I went back to see who all posted on Thursdays, and there were your name and Garry’s. When I went back to your post, Garry’s was gone. I think I saw a postghost. Well, we created a new word today. Should I notify Merriam-Webster?

  2. I remember “deplane”…those were Tattoo’s favorite M & Ms!

    Here’s one for you, Elaine. It’s not a new word, but a new definition for an old one. It’s “lean” which is now used to describe a street concoction consisting of codeine cough syrup, hard candy, and soda. It is very addictive and extremely dangerous. I just learned of it but it has apparently been around since 2020. If you hear younger people talking about “lean” chances are that they are not talking about Bill Withers.

    Thanks for a great post. “Decarceration”…that one should be locked up for life.

  3. Yikes! That’s a new meaning for “lean,” Joe. It sounds really scary. Glad you want to put “decarceration” in solitary.

  4. Great post, Elaine. So many new words created during this pandemic year. Of course, English is always appropriating words from other languages, with a readiness that has to put it in the forefront of language appropriation.

    Or, as a t-shirt stated, “Not only does the English Language borrow words from other languages, it sometimes chases them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and goes through their pockets” 🙂

    I’m not a fan of “optics” as used in the sense of politics–“this speech had poor optics,” definitely political journalist speak, but, it’s a single word instead of something like “this speech was ill-considered.”

    • Love the quote, Dave. And count me as someone else who dislikes “optics” in politics-speak, which is not English as we (want to) know it.

  5. I learned a new word a few days ago. “Cheugy” is a Gen Z term for being totally uncool. In other words, anything your parents do.

    Penn Holderness explains the term in his parody of “Let It Be.”

    Speaking of YouTube, there are lots of ASMR channels. I tried a Harry Potter ASMR channel for a short period. Really attractive settings with a few things happening slowly in the background with some New Agey music playing in a repetitve cycle. It bored my socks off.

      • Here’s a Harry Potter ASMR. You don’t need to know the universe to “get it.”

        I did a general search on YouTube, and there’s a whole lot of sexual stuff and parodies of the supposed tingle you get from watching these videos. Others see them as a Zen kind of thing which was my reason for trying them out.

  6. I love the list of new words. I especially liked “hygge” and its pronunciation. The Danes could probably teach us a lot about having to stay in when things are dark on the outside. (Btw, when I typed “hygge”, autocorrect kept changing it to “higgle.” I guess the online dictionary hasn’t caught up yet.)

    I have also noticed strange goings-on on TKZ lately. When I view the post on my windows box using Firefox, the comments don’t show up until later in the day. Everything works well on my Mac. I should probably just reinstall Firefox to see if that fixes the problem. In the meantime, I’ll macify.

  7. My comment was a victim of today’s TKZ confusion, apparently. My dad was a lover of words, and if he needed one, he’d just make it up. Same went for definitions. There wasn’t a word he couldn’t define. Accuracy? Never mattered to him.

    Another source of daily vocabulary words comes from I post their offerings on my Facebook Author page, but the game is to make up your own definitions. I have some very creative people who show up daily to play along.

    • Terry, what a delightful idea! We used to play a game with friends where one person would look up an obscure word in a dictionary and tell the group the word, but not the definition. Then each person would make up a definition and write it on an index card. The person who knew would write a card with the correct definition. Then the person in charge would take up the cards, read each one to the group, and each person would vote on the definition that he/she thought was correct. Whoever got the most votes won the round. (The correct definition rarely won.) Some of them were hilarious, and a few were unrepeatable.

  8. I was about to post something about an IT abbreviation I used and then needed to explain, WAG. You do not want a WAG. It is a wild ass guess.

    You don’t want an RGE either, Resume generating event. The mistake that gets you fired.

    • More WAGs than a pen full of puppies, Alan, when things go wrong on my computer. That’s when I ask you for help.
      Full disclosure, Alan is not only a regular commentator but my Web guru.

    • Although I subsequently enjoyed a significantly longer career in IT, I once had a rather short-lived career in the U.S. military fighter-bomber community where WAG had exactly the same definition. A decision based on only slightly better information was a SWAG (a “scientific wild-ass guess”), and when one “pickled off” a bomb (the bomb-release button on the aircraft control stick was known as the “pickle” button, perhaps because the manufacturer of the top-secret WWII-era Norden bombsight unashamedly promoted it as being accurate enough to put a bomb in a pickle barrel from 20,000 feet above ground level), it was usually at the point where the pilot judged the aircraft’s attitude, altitude, airspeed, and flight path as well as the position of the center point (the “pipper”) of the aiming reticule projected on his HUD (“heads-up display”) in relation to the target were all at least approximately “close enough for government work” for him to conclude TLAR (pronounced tee-lar): “that looks about right.” 🙂

  9. But in the COVID world I am very pleased to be a “plus 14.” In ten days all of my family will be plus 14s. Two jabs plus 14 days. For that matter, thank you to the BBC for using jab for vaccination. Although the Fauci Ouchie is fun.

    All of them beat what my pizza friends were this time last year. We were the essential/expendable.

  10. I’ve received the Word of the Day for years, and always look forward to what they send. I’m with you on “Sapiosexual,” Elaine! Fab word.

  11. Here’s a relatively recent word (at least I never heard it until several years ago) I would like to see go away: preplan. Seriously. Do people that use that word not fully understand what plan means? This drives me every bit as batty apostrophes used before an s when it is not a possessive.

    As one of Nordic descent I’m quite familiar with the concept and word hygge, but I have rarely ever used it.

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