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Word of the Day: verjaardag, birthday

What a strange word VERJAARDAG really is. The English word ‘birthday’ reflects this yearly event in a different way. The Dutch word has JAAR (year) at its core and the English word ‘birth’. Two different mindsets. ‘Birthday’ -> one day a year to celebrate the day that you were born. Happy to be alive, happy to have been given life, happy to just be… joy!


VERJAARDAG, like ‘anniversary’, refers to the commonplace fact that a year has gone by and that a new year is about to start. The verb VERJAREN has two related meanings: 1. celebrate one’s birthday and 2. lapse or become out of date (of crimes, rights). So VERJAARDAG literally is the ‘year-up-day’. Another year gone, what a relief!

Old English had the wonderful word for anniversary: ‘mynddæg’, literally ‘mind day’, ‘mynd’ meaning memory or remembrance. A day to pay attention to the moment that changed the course of the lives of your parents, determined your own life and God knows what! Let’s reintroduce ‘mindday’ and pep up the existing Dutch word: ‘gedenkdag’. Sounds great: ‘Happy mindday, I love you’. ‘Gelukkige gedenkdag, ik lief je!’ (For the reintroduction of ‘lieven’ see earlier Facebook post!)

Today Saturday 2, 2013 is the ‘gedenkdag’, the ‘mindday’ of the Dutch author Godfried Bomans (Den Haag, 2 maart 1913 – Bloemendaal, 22 december 1971). This afternoon I attended the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the place of his birth on the Bierkade by mayor Jozias van Aartsen. Bomans was a very popular author and television & radio personality. He reminds me somewhat of witty artists like Stephen Fry and Oscar Wilde. I don’t think any of Bomans’ fairy tales or phantasy novels were translated into English. So you have to learn Dutch. You know where!

To give you a taste of his many aphorisms here is one about VERJAARDAG:

‘De dag vóór de verjaardag, dát is de prettigste dag. De verjaardag zelf is slechts de vervulling van een belofte. En een belofte is altijd meer dan de vervulling ervan.’

(The day before the birthday, that is the most pleasant day. The birthday itself is the mere fulfillment of a promise. And a promise is always more than the fulfillment of it.)