I wrote about the “English disease” last week, the tendency among Dutch speakers not to compound when they should – as in computerscherm, computer screen, not computer scherm. Leah does it backwards. “Now, when writing in English, I tend to create many new compound words, a bad habit picked up from learning a second language.”
To be fair, the production crew of the show, which is set in Kortrijk, did make an effort to get it right. The actors, most of them not native to the region, studied the dialect for months and were schooled by a dialect coach. To no avail. Pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary: They do it all wrong, according to the natives.
“Americans also like eating cookies, from koekjes” writes Richard Tagart, “They like sitting on the stoop on a balmy evening, from stoep. When there’s a bump in the night, they wonder if the house is haunted by a spook, from spook.” Off to something completely different, though, or we could be sitting here tomorrow, saying things like boss!, from baas, or rucksack!, from rugzak (rug means back, the body part).
Well, Frank, I’m glad you asked, because there are plenty – though not all are equally praiseworthy. Apartheid, for example, may very well be the most famous word of the Dutch language. It comes from apart, separate, and the suffix –heid, comparable to the English –hood or –ness.
The second most famous, then, could just as well be polder, “an area of low land reclaimed from a body of water,” according to my Penguin dictionary, “esp in the Netherlands.” To keep those areas water-free, dijken had to be erected, or dykes.
No. I know because I can’t stop reading and hearing about zomerfestivals, summer festivals. They’re everywhere, even inside this very newspaper (see agenda). There’s no escaping it. The innocent and unsuspecting citizen may fall victim at any time of day, anywhere, when he least expects it. Standing in line at the supermarket, walking the dog or poking his head out the window, he’ll be deftly reminded of the fact that other, cooler people are having fun somewhere.
Tongbrekers exist in every language and are of course utter nonsense. The phrase above literally means “The cat claws the curls off the stairs” and has no more meaning than “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
Now say this five times in a row, as fast as possible: De knecht snijdt recht en de meid snijdt scheef. (The servant cuts straight, and the maid cuts askew.) Ah, the Dutch language. Such music. Or this: Zeven zwarte zwanen zwemmen in de Zuiderzee. (Seven black swans are swimming in the South Sea.)
Cute and cuddly they aren’t, of course, I knew that long before. To call them groentjes is just a trick to make eating them sound like fun. Any kid will testify that it is quite the contrary. They are to humans what water is to cats: unpleasant but necessary. And they’re also very confusing to translate.