Hard to explain Dutch words

The Netherlands has, like many other nations, developed a number of eccentricities over the years that are difficult to explain to the “uninitiated”. In Dutch the words gezellig and lekker for example are of this category. Let’s see if I can explain why these words are so interesting.


©image: theartstack.com

What is ‘gezellig’?

Before answering this question, let’s focus on the pronunciation. The word gezellig has our dreaded “g” in it, which is tricky to pronounce for native English speakers. In order to explain this, I had to seek refuge on the internet where I found a very amusing description given by Mexican blogger Guilie Castillo:

“Imagine you’re a dog–maybe a grizzly. Now growl. Yep, that’s it–the G sound in Dutch. Way back in your throat, so harsh it makes it hurt. Yeah–now you got it.
So–gezellig. Pronunciation: growl+eh+ZEH+leh+growl.”

Even though I think the explanation is hilarious, it’s a bit over the top. Better think of our “g” as the “ch” sound in the Scottish word “loch”. Master that and you have mastered our (in)famous letter “g”.

So how is the word gezellig translated? The English dictionary gives: cosy, snug, pleasant, sociable, chatty, homy, intimate and close. All of these translations can be used in many sentences which are generally categorised in three different contexts;
– in relation to a person (likeable or fun)
– in relation to a place (cozy, at home)
– as an anticipation (looking forward to something)
That’s it for the technical part which is fairly straightforward.

But the difficulty with the word gezellig is its high level of connotation (i.e., emotional content). This means that everybody can have their own interpretation of the word gezellig.
For example: You may think of gezellig as a comfortable chair with a good book, glass of whisky and big cigar, but someone else might picture a sunday morning high tea with five of their closest friends.
So you see, gezellig is in the eye of the beholder making it extremely ambiguous.

What is meant by lekker?

Ambiguity also applies to the word lekker. Even though the most justified translation would be the word “tasty,” it comprehends more than that. Taking it out of the realm of food, the word gets a life of its own. We Dutch tend to use it whenever we please, making lekker an impossibility to explain.

Some examples to prove my point:
Slaap lekker — sleep tight (or sweet dreams)
Lekker ding — hot girl (or handsome boy)
Lekker puh! — so there! (or ‘na na na na na!’)
Lekker warm — nice and warm
Lekker mis! — sucks!

Maybe comparing lekker to the modern use of the word “cool” gives you an idea on what I am trying to explain.


Two dutch words with different meaning and both very difficult, if not impossible, to explain. But I hope I was able to give you a little insight on these language oddities.
If you want to fully understand the concept of both words, I’m afraid you will have to become (half) a Dutchie. If that is not likely to happen, than hopefully this little article was fun reading.

Thanks for reading this article. It was gezellig!


One response to “Hard to explain Dutch words

  1. I like your very clear and complete explanations of Dutch word usages. I found a similar one today in the German word ‘hauser.’ It’s a house – or a family – or a governing body – or the building they meet in – or…. 😉


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