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Word of the Day: slachtoffer (victim, sacrifice)

A new trend in the area of Dutch justice is the right of SLACHTOFFERS, victims to speak in the courtroom. At the International Criminal Court in The Hague, too, victims can participate in the trials by expressing their views. Though victims have been around as long as humans feel the urge to harm each other, the sense of SLACHTOFFER as ‘a person who is hurt, tortured, or killed by another’ is comparatively new. This sense was first recorded in the seventeenth century. The sense of ‘a person taken advantage of’ is from a much later date. In the Middle Ages and earlier the word meant: ‘living creature killed and offered to a deity ’. Usually by means of a knife. Originally there were also BRANDOFFERS, burnt offerings.


SLACHTOFFER (victim) comes from SLACHTEN (slaughter) and OFFER (offering, sacrifice). There is a strong affinity between SLACHTEN and SLAUGHTER. In fact, pronounce SLAUGHTER the Dutch way (/s-l-au-g-t-e/) and you hear SLACHTEN. So why didn’t the English use a word like ‘slaughtoffering’? Sounds so much more expressive than VICTIM, don’t you think?

SLACHTEN, slaughter is related to SLAAN (hit, strike, slay). In the Middle Ages it meant the killing of one or more people. Later on it came to mean ‘killing cattle for meat’. So the professions of SLACHTER (slaughterman in a slaughterhouse) and SLAGER (butcher) owe their existence to the latter sense.

And last but not least, there is also a verb related to SLACHTOFFER. ‘Lance Armstrong voelt zich GESLACHTOFFERD door de media.’ (victimized by the media). And you? Do you feel SLACHTOFFER in the Netherlands because the Dutch remain at a distance? If so, learn Dutch. You know where. It’s easy. It’s fun.