Sunday, 23 December 2012

Keeping the Christmas Turkey Safe

I had a problem with the turkey the other day.

I bought a lovely turkey crown for our Christmas celebrations and was well pleased with it. The only trouble was that upon returning home I noticed that the sell by date ('Te Gebruiken tot…') was marked as BEFORE Christmas day! Doh…

As I was inspecting the packaging to see if I was somehow mistaken I also noticed 'Koel bewaren' and noticed the similarity of bewaren to beware in English.

Related? I investigated.

bewaren : keep, save, preserve, conserve, guard.

beware : be cautious and alert to the dangers of.

Not exactly the same but deserves more looking into.

English etymology:
(from wary) 1550s, from O.E. wær "prudent, aware, alert, wary," from P.Gmc. *waraz (cf. O.N. varr "attentive," Goth. wars "cautious," O.S. giwar, M.Du. gheware, O.H.G. giwar, Ger. gewahr "aware"), from PIE root *wer- "to cover" (see weir). Related: Warily; wariness.

Dutch etymology:
Onl. beuuarun ‘het oog houden op’ [10e eeuw; W.Ps.]; mnl. bewaren ‘letten op, beschermen, handhaven’

('keep an eye on' [10th century]; Keep 'watch, protect, enforce')

This brings these two words more in line and with even more searching I find that, just as in English, bewaren in Dutch is made up from two words. In Dutch 'waren' (cf. wary) which meant ‘zorgen voor, bewaken’ (care for, guard).

But beware! Although these two words have similar etymology they mean different things now. The process of investigating really helps me retain a word in my head, even if finally their meanings are not exactly the same.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Current Dutch Comprehension level

I was pleased to read this in the paper the other day and to be able to understand and translate it.
Reading the paper is a great way to keep chipping away at Dutch  comprehension and in Brussels there are several free publications you can pick up easily. The metro is free and mostly found in or around metro stations, or you can read it online here: 

Brussel Deze Week is, as the name suggests, Brussels-based news and can be read here: (as can the free 'Agenda' magazine). So plenty of options to read a little Dutch daily.

Here's my translation, but feel free to send comments or corrections!

"Here young people need somebody who can tell them that it is possible to make something of their lives."

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


You know what I mean?

Menen and mening are a bit different from their English counterparts so I thought I'd make a note.

Surely, they both must share a common root, but now have slightly different meanings.

Look at the etymology:

O.E. mænan "to mean, intend, signify; tell, say; complain, lament"

M.Du. meenen, Du. menen, Ger. meinen "think, suppose, be of the opinion".

Menen: to believe
Mening: opinion, belief

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Daybreak : dægred : dageraad

Reading through David Crystal's fabulous 'Cambridge Encyclopaedia of The English Language' and I came across a section on Old English vocabulary. I really am fascinated by this link through time to our language's ancestor. It seems so different; how can we even label them both English? Tīdymbwlātend for example means astronomer!

Some words, when explained however, do seem more like close cousins than distant relatives. Sunnandæg or eorþcræft (earthcraft) can be guessed (Sunday and geometry), but others are a bit more mysterious with hints to the modern equivalent. Especially if we compare them with Dutch!

Dægred is a composite word of 'dæg' (day) and 'red' (red) [Crystal, Cambridge Encyclopaedia of The English Language' p.22] and gives a rather poetic interpretation of daybreak or dawn. Checking out the Dutch translation we see a very similar word: 'dageraad'. However this Dutch etymology link claims that 'raad' is not linked to 'red' as in the Old English version ("echter niet samenstelling met rood."). Reference here. This despite red being in Old Frisian, 'rad' and Old Dutch 'root'.

Are these words (dægred and dageraad) not of the same etymology then? Or has somebody got it wrong? Surely not David Crystal!!

Daybreak : English
dægred : Old English
dageraad : Modern Dutch

Day red?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Keek - Kijken - Peek

Saw this funny sketch which is mostly in Scottish dialect and picked up one word which quite obviously has Dutch connections!

At one point the medical officer says, "Will ye stop keeking at my @rse!" (1:45)

Keek = kijk (from kijken to look)

This website claims it is indeed descended from Middle Dutch:

Friday, 5 October 2012

Expressions : uitdrukkingen

- Op een hoog niveau : verheven
- Zeggen dat iets niet mag : iets verbieden
- Iemand die spreekt in naam van een groep : woordvoerder
- Zich iets indenken : zich iets inbeelden
- Iets doen dat tegen de een regel is : een regel overtreden
- Vinden dat iets niet kan : iets niet zien zitten
- Dat maakt je privacy kapot : dat is een inbreuk op je privacy
- Het publiek : toeschouwers
- Zonder te stoppen : onophoudelijk (ophouden = stoppen)
- Vanaf nu : voortaan
- Zeker zijn dat je iets krijgt: op iets rekenen

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Like a Sponge: Cool Dutch learning blog

If you're learning Dutch you should definitely check out this website:

Unlike me, this blogger is a fluent Dutch speaker and gives some very interesting insights into Dutch language usage in an everyday setting.

Wedding Vocabulary in Dutch

Het Huwelijk - the wedding
het teken = het symbool
de naast familie - the close family
voor de wet - in the eye's of the law
bruidsboeket - bride's bouquet
toestemming - approval
aanvarden - to accept
de sieraden = de juwelen
de oorringen - earrings
de armband - bracelet
de ketting - necklace
een kring - a circle
de voorbereidingen - the preparations
de bruiloft = het huwelijksfeest
versierd - decorated

Monday, 1 October 2012

Learn a foreign language with an online language exchange

I've signed up to to try and use my language skills with native speakers. It's a free tool with an exchange as well as conversation tables and a forum.

Worth checking out.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Poetsen = to Polish

But I also thought it meant to clean or wash (around the house)…? 

Anyway, great sounding word!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Brussels is a Rosetta Stone of languages

Well, it is for French and Dutch at least!

The beauty of the situation is that I speak French and am learning Dutch in Brussels so even just a walk along the street is a language lesson for me. There are signposts and posters all around the city in both languages, sometimes with a direct translation and other times with a creative translation which gives a sense of the meaning in another language. Below we see a signpost and this tends to be a direct translation which stays faithful to the exact meaning (it has to-it's a sign!). Usually it's adverts which use more ambiguous and poetic translations.

This translated into English means 'Emergency access' but you can take clues about other words from this sign too:

Toegang : access

Hulp : help

Diensten : services

(literally Access (for) Help Services)

Monday, 24 September 2012

Spelk : Splinter

This post is to put to rest a ghost of mine. When I went to University I thought lots of the words I used daily were standard English (why would I think anything else!?) and was a little surprised when others from around the UK were bemused when I used them.

SPELK is a great word and is only ever used to mean a splinter (of wood), generally in the finger. Upon meeting Scandinavian or Dutch people I would always corner them and ask what 'splinter' was in their language and, until now, I've had no luck and thought spelk was an isolated Northern word, unrelated to other Germanic languages.

Tonight I found the answer here!

It states that spelk comes from Old English (spelc or spilc) for splints (surgical supports). Also related to Old Norse spelkur (splints).

Splint (still in the sense of surgical support) in different languages:

Dutch: spalk
Swedish: spjälor

This page here refers directly to the NE dialect word 'spelk' in the first paragraph:
"oe. spelc ‘spalk’ (ne. dial. spelk)"

The same source states that  spelk, spelc, spalk all derive from the word 'to split' (that is to say "cleave piece of wood):

"Het woord betekent eigenlijk ‘afgespleten stuk hout’ en is een afleiding van de wortel 'splijten'"

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Flemish TV

I don't have a telly.

Well, that's strictly not true as I do, in fact, own a tv but I don't have it (what I like to call) "plumbed in" (subscribed to any channels). So in some ways my statement of my not having a telly stands true. Sort of. In any case it doesn't detract from the point I'd like to make and that is this: you can still watch Flemish telly even if you're not connected up to the local network via the magic of the internet!

Today I watched a couple of short extracts from a Flemish cookery show which I found very interesting and almost entirely incomprehensible. I am proud of my language abilities but it's a bit disheartening when, after many lessons and good progress listening to radio, you hear something else which makes little sense.

Luckily for me, there were images to accompany it.

Tune in and learn how to make Pims, here:

Other Flemish show clips available here:

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Old English used GE- Prefix for past tense

I was watching a history show about England when the presenter held up a beautiful object which he said belonged to King Alfred. The proof was in the inscription which read,

"Alfred mec heht gewyrcan"

This means Alfred had me (ordered me to be) made.

Instantly my curiosity was piqued by the word "gewyrcan' or made. After some research my suspicions that this verb was similar to other Germanic words for to work or to make were confirmed.

English: worked or made
Old English: gewyrcan
Dutch: gewerkt
German: gewerk is used in the term of a craft or a guild.

The next question I asked myself was how far this ge- prefix survived into English, as obviously we don't use it to form the past tense today.

There's a good article about it here :

…which show that Old English did use a ge- prefix which turned into y-, i- or ȝe- in Middle English and then was lost altogether.

Or was it?

The same article claims that the vestiges of this prefiix exist in the following words: alikeawarehandiwork.

Double check on the online etymology dictionary

handiwork  late 12c., from O.E. handgeweorc, from hand (n.) + geweorc, collective form of weorc "work" (see work). O.E. ge- regularly reduces to i- in Middle English, and the word probably came to be felt as handy + work.

Photograph courtesy of Kotomicreations.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Afwezig = Absent

Occasionally a Dutch word will pop into my head and I really don't know what it means or where it came from. Tonight's mystery word is 'afwezig' which means absent (German: abwesend).

I suppose listening to Dutch radio stations does me some good after all!

Antonym: aanwezig.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Learning difficulties: "your American penis".

Interesting article about one man's journey in learning Farsi (or Persian).

The provocative title of this blog post comes from the author of the article's mispronunciation of something in Farsi (by one vowel sound!) and its subsequent outcome!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Dikker or Dichter?

Thanks to Flanders Today (p.16), I'm reminded of the need to know vocabulary well and throughly!

 “The Gentse Feesten bring people fatter together” Prime minister Elio Di Rupo confuses dichter (closer) with dikker (fatter)

This could be of course not that Di Rupo didn't know the word, rather than he didn't pronounce the soft 'ch' sound /dɪxt/ but made it into a hard 'k' sound: dikkter sounds more like dikker than dichter!

From Middle Dutch dicht, from Old Dutch *thīht, from Proto-Germanic *þinhtaz (Note that English took a different evolutionary route: thiht became thicce became thick.).

Friday, 29 June 2012


'Graag' (more or less 'gladly') is a tricky word for me to pronounce and I'm guessing it's tricky for lots of native English speakers. The switch from an whispered 'h' sound (ɣ) to an r then back to ɣ is tricky so I asked my Flemish buddy what his tongue was doing. Mine goes from being flat in the mouth to the top of the mouth (as English speakers tend to do when pronouncing r) whereas his stayed flat throughout! He did warn me that his way of saying it may be a Brussels accent but it has to be better then mine!

From now on I'll try to keep my tongue down (and slightly back) throughout the pronunciation.

Out of interest graag seems to have the same root as 'greedy' in English:
Graag: From Middle Dutch gradig (desirous, willing), from Old Dutch *grādag (desirous, hungry)
Cognate withOld Saxon grādag (hungry)Old High German grātag (greedy, thirsty, gaping)Old English grǣdig (greedy, hungry, covetous, eager). (reference here)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Dutch column

Interesting column in a Flemish magazine for English speakers who are learning Dutch!

Unlike my 'column' though, the above 'Flanders Today' column is written by someone who seems to have mastered the language!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Spirou: Journal d'un ingénu in 'Bruxellois'.

I recently bought this Spirou 'BD' as I was attracted by the wonderful illustrations of Brussels, the rather dark take on this very Belgian character and the fact that this version is in Bruxellois. Sometimes called 'Marollien' this dialect has been described as part French, part Spanish and part Dutch (

So let's see for ourselves shall we? In the marvellous lexicon at the back of this book there is an exhaustive list of Brusselair words, some of which seem somewhat familiar…

Bruxellois / Dutch / English

doon / doen / to do
koemer / kamer / room
gebrauken / gebroken / broken
kozaain / neef (although I have seen kozijn used-poss archaic?) / cousin

In my own experience of learning French, first in France and then in Brussels, there are Dutch words I use in French without realising! Particularly:

'il fait douf'
'il drache'
and of course the beautiful: 'cheveux crollés'.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Present tense formation in Dutch (tegenwoordige tijd)

Good summary on creating the present tense in regular and irregular verbs:

"tegenwoordige tijd: presens; drukt "heden" uit, d.w.z. de gebeurtenis valt gelijktijdig met het spreekmoment"

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Geld Nodig? Afhalen.

'Halen' is a useful and much used word, it seems, in Dutch.

Here it's used as 'afhalen' which means to withdraw (it can also mean pick up, right Dutch speakers?).

But ophalen means to pick up (or collect)

Have fun with other composed words:

overhalen (to persuade)
inhalen (to overtake)
any more?

And of course we can't end the post without trying to give a tip on remembering this word. Well I associate 'halen' with the English verb 'to hail' (as in a cab). This works well to help me remember what halen means (linked to 'to fetch' or to command') but I don't know whether there is an etymological link.

Monday, 7 May 2012


Well I've always been a bit confused with this phrase: logically it shouldn't it be goede dag? Well it seems that in use 'goedendag' is preferred but I don't know why! Any explanations gratefully received.

The sense of the word/phrase 'goedendag' I'd like to explore to day is when it is used as a noun. In this sense it is a 'mace' (a medieval weapon). See more of the wikipedia article here. When I was reading this article one of the explanations of this word is "good dagger" (the other one seems a bit spurious to me!) so this sent me off on a research hunt!

dagger = dolk

In modern Dutch this would be 'goede dolk', so where is the link?

dolk sounds more like the Scottish word 'dirk' for dagger or short sword and sure enough the etymology shows common roots for dirk and dolk: " the earliest spellings (of dirk) were dork,durk [possibly from] Ger. dolch "dagger.""

Ok so that's sorted out where dolk came from but why would a mace be called a goedendag then (if the theory of it referring to a dagger is true)?

More research shows that the English word 'dagger' comes from middle Dutch 'dagge' and would line up nicely with a mediaeval weapon that looks like the one pictured here: a good dagger indeed.

Good day!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Friesian and Old English

Eddie Izzard trying to speak to a Friesian farmer in 'Old English'.
Or his version of it anyway.

Funny. Neat. Informative (a little bit).

Thanks AEH for this.

The boss!

From your supervisor to Bruce Springsteen we're used to the word 'boss' in English. It's the person in charge. The chief. The order giver…and such an English word!

Such an English word that I was intrigued to learn that 'baas' in Dutch has a similar meaning. They sound similar, but surely they can't be related? Let me check.

boss = baas

In fact I learned it in the context of huisbaas (lit. house boss) or landlord in English. So after a quick internet search found that, yes indeed, they are related. Not only that but etymologically speaking Dutch is the baas over boss…

"overseer," 1640s, Amer.Eng., from Du. baas "a master," M.Du. baes, of obscure origin.

Further digging found this article which tells of baas as a great Dutch export.

"Variations on the Dutch word baas can be found in 57 other world languages, making it the most widely adopted Dutch word, according to Leiden researcher Nicoline van der Sijs.
'We have to conclude that the Dutch and Flemish were happy to be the boss, on ships and plantations and the like,’ Van der Sijs says"

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Bezig : Busy

Although these two words don't on the surface look very similar they do sound linked.

Bezig is pronounced /ˈbeː.zɪx/ and busy is pronounced: /ˈbɪzi/

So not exaclty the same but happily similar to help in remembering the link between them.

You won't be surprised to learn that they have the same root and that busy is "cognate with Old Dutch bezich, and Lower German besig." Reference.

I'd be happy to hear some of the subtle differences between the words 'busy', 'bezig' and 'druk'...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Nederlands en Vlaams zijn verschillende talen

Interesting look at a few differences between the Dutch language as spoken in Flanders and in the Netherlands.

beenhouwer = slager = butcher

Note: houwer is akin to the English word hewer (one who hews) : to shape or strike (as of an axe).

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Engels Leren

One benefit of learning English….

Dutch in Suriname

Interesting to hear Dutch spoken by non Netherlanders!

"Voor zo'n 23 miljoen mensen is Nederlands de moedertaal. Het is een van de 40 meest gesproken talen in de wereld."

D becomes TH

Another useful brain bookmark I've made which does help a little in making sense of this new language I've decided to take up is that sometimes we can seek clues in the letter D.

Dutch uses 'D' sometimes where English uses 'TH' in a word of a similar meaning.

If you look at the following examples, you'll see what I mean:

Nederland : The Netherlands
Beneden : Beneath
Dief : Thief
De : The
Dit : This (sometimes!)

I find it not only useful for these words but as a marker for the language as a whole, giving me some ideas as to the structure of words.

See how close Beneath and Benedan are in their linguistic heritage:

From Old English: beneoðan "beneath, under, below,"

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Gooien : to throw

This is intriguing for me as a Northerner. When I was told how this curious-looking word was pronounced and what it meant I couldn't help but see a link with Geordie. Gooien is pronounced as "Hoyen" (hear it here) which is very similar to the word used in the North East for throw: "hoy". Although Geordie differs from Standard English mostly in it's accent there are some old words that exist with deep roots into Nordic languages and this might be one of them.

Gooien : to throw (or hoy in the North East).

Reference: (Scroll down to 'hoy')

Dekken : to cover

Dekken means to cover but can also be used as "de tafel dekken" or to lay the table.

In order to help us remember this meaning it is useful to look to the etymology of the English equivalent "to deck".

deck (v.)  "adorn" (as in deck the halls), early 15c., from M.Du. dekken "to cover," from the same P.Gmc. root as deck (n.). Meaning "to cover" is from 1510s in English. Replaced O.E. þeccan.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

An Englishman's Difficulties with Dutch

An Englishman's tale of learning the Dutch language, covering spelling and some of what he perceives to be peculiarities

What is Spelling?
The Open Syllable
The Voiced Consonants 
The Long Vowels 
The IJ disaster 
The -isch Stupidity 
A Larger Example

Steven Pemberton, CWI, Amsterdam

Vlaanderen en Nederland samen?

Should Flanders and The Netherlands get together?


Having landed in Belgium with a good knowledge of the culture and fair fluency in French I wanted to increase my chances of getting a job and communicating with my Flemish friends by learning the Dutch language. Although I'm still a beginner I thought I'd document some of the things I learn with a view to help others on a similar path.

There are lots of similarities between Dutch and English but where there aren't I hope to show links, tips or tricks to help the beginner learn or retain some aspects of the Dutch language which might seem daunting.