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Word of the Day: gezellig (enjoyable, pleasant, entertaining, sociable, companionable, convivial)

This cosiest of all Dutch words can be attached to almost any other word: koffie, film, man, tafel, vuur… They can all be GEZELLIG. When in Dutch company make sure you utter the word GEZELLIG at least ten times. Eventually they’ll find you very GEZELLIG and you’re sure to be invited to the next ‘GEZELLIGE party’. It speaks in your favour if you vary GEZELLIG with ‘aangenaam’, ‘genoeglijk’ or ‘knus’.


KNUS is a good word to know. And a cosy place to visit. In the park Delftse Hout, situated between The Hague and Delft (behind Ikea) there is a lovely café at the waterside. Its name is KNUS. Lovely for kids. Great if you love ‘appelgebak’.

This Dutch word KNUS sounds lovely and old, but it is as recent as the nineteenth century. In German a ‘knütsel’ is a coiled up knot (yes! same origin as ‘knütsel’). The word suggests a big tangle. And as you know a tangle (it always takes at least two to tangle) is a lovely intimate jumble. So that’s why the café’s slogan is: KNUS heet KNUS omdat KNUS KNUS is (Knus is called Knus because Knus is knus). KNUS comes very close to the English word ‘snug’.

Some people look down upon Dutch snugness. They claim they detest cosiness. But after all is said and done, everyone loves a wallow in GEZELLIGHEID. Take Christmas for example. And wasn’t the Eurovision Songcontest GEZELLIG? And the succession? But, I hear you say, those are national events, maybe even nationalistic. They give people a false feeling of togetherness. It is us against them. Them being the evil world out there…

So what? Sometimes we need this feeling of intimacy. Even if it is only an illusion. The word GEZELLIG comes from the word GEZEL, which is an old medieval word for companion, comrade or friend. Being among friends therefore is GEZELLIG.

There is a persistent myth that GEZELLIG is uniquely Dutch and that there is no other language that has an equivalent. I must admit that I was one of those stubborn believers, but the esteemed etymologist and linguist Mrs Nicoline van der Sijs set me right in her ‘Klein uitleenwoordenboek’ from 2006. In this book she points out that many other languages have a word for GEZELLIG. In German it is ‘gemütlich’ and in French ‘agréable’. So what is GEZELLIG in your language? And tell me, please, what connotations it has.