How Scotland accidentally encouraged visitors to spend winter in a ‘damp hole’

There are few things more inviting in the cold days of winter than the Danish concept of hygge. Last year’s surge in interest in hygge – and the possibility of an increase in tourism – led Visit Scotland to launch their own version but it’s a possible mistranslation that has made headlines instead.

Clachaig Inn seems like the perfect place to find ‘Scottish hygge’…whatever the word might be. Photo by Justin Foulkes/Lonely Planet

According to Visit Scotland, còsagach (pronounced coze-a-gock) is an old Scottish word for “feeling snug, sheltered and warm.” Their research for upcoming trends in 2018 points to that fact that Scotland, with its harsh winters, can be an ideal destination to wrap up, feel cosy and indulge in spending the long, dark evening relaxing in front of a fire. So far so good right? Except that it’s inadvertently sparked a row between the tourist board and some Scottish Gaelic speakers.

Many linguists and speakers of Scottish Gaelic claim the tourism board have gotten it all wrong. They say it’s untrue this is a word “dedicated” to this concept and, indeed, it could even have more negative connotations. Like in many languages, there are plenty of Scottish terms that don’t have direct translations to English, but suggestions for more accurate translations range from “full of holes”, “a damp, mossy place” or a “hole where small creatures might live”.

The tourism board’s definition of còsagach appears to have come from a 1911 dictionary where the second definition listed was “snug, warm, cosy, sheltered”. However, critics say this is now an archaic definition and doesn’t represent how the language has evolved in the last century and say this could have been avoided if Visit Scotland had paid a translator to research the best equivalent.

“We weren’t looking for a direct translation of ‘cosy’”, said Chris Greenwood of Visit Scotland, “but a word that encompassed the essence of that feeling which would connect with consumers, whilst recognising the Gaelic language which is an integral part of Scotland’s culture.”

Despite the controversy, a publishing company has already announced it will publish a book on ‘Scottish hygge’ next year called The Book of Coorie and it’s unlikely the cosy, winter trend is going to fall out of fashion soon. 2015 research suggests embracing these concepts of cosiness could lead to better health in the dark, winter months…regardless of the word you call it.

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How Scotland accidentally encouraged visitors to spend winter in a ‘damp hole’
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