Thursday, September 29, 2005


I don't claim to be a linguist -- and I always welcome the perspective of those countless men and women who know Dutch better than I do -- but every now and then, I notice something interesting with the ways that Dutch and English match up (or fail to match up) with each other... Recently, I've been intrigued by the translations of the word schoonheid.

Beauty. Cleanliness. In-laws... As far as I can tell, the Dutch language makes no verbal distinction between these concepts which, to an English-speaker, are so apart.

A woman or a city or a jewel can be noted for its beauty -- its schoonheid. The place where one goes to have her hair styled and nails manicured is often marked by the title schoonheid salon above the door... Simultaneously, a dining establishment or someone's home can be admired for its cleanliness -- its schoonheid. When you spend a lot of time dusting and vacuuming and scrubbing a house, your actions are described as schoonmaken... And well, although it's a bit of a stretch, I guess I can make some sense out of the link between these two concepts -- especially when you've seen how high a cultural value is placed on cleanliness (I know of no other people who clean as thoroughly and as well as the Dutch)...

But "in-laws"? I'm not exactly sure how this usage of the Dutch word matches up with the others. Yet the word for the family into which you marry is schoonfamilie. Your mother-in-law would be your schoonmoeder. Your brother's wife would be called your schoonzus... The prefix is the same, but as far as I'm aware there's no expectation for one's in-laws to be exceptionally clean, or exceptionally beautiful.

I love stumbling across such little quirks of language and social study. Such cultural relics may be meaningless and confusing, but at least they're interesting.


At 6:03 PM, Blogger Suzanne said...

funney, huh? to me it's even more funny that every in-lae is called a schoon-something, like ypur brother's wife is a schoonzus, but then your wife's brother is called 'zwager'. how much sense does THAT make?

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Frans said...

Just to throw some more terms into the mix: Ik heb er schoon genoeg van means "I've absolutely had enough!". The atchaic word ofschoon means "although". Still, very little apparent relation between these words.
I'm guessing our schoon-words bear some relation to the German words schön ("nice", "pretty") and schon ("already"). Information getting lost when words move from German to Dutch seems to be common. Like wachsen (to grow) and waschen (to wash) both have Dutch equivalents in wassen, which can mean both "to wash" and "to grow" (although rarely used anymore in the latter sense in modern-day Dutch).

Anyway, I'm not an expert in this, it's just a personal interest, so here's my two cents :)

At 9:41 AM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Interesting additional thoughts, Frans. Your comments actually give a lot of insight!


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