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Word of the Day: tuin (garden)

In this short series of Dutch and English words that are closely related (after having dealt with KNECHT and SLACHT), let’s have a look at the word TUIN, garden. This word sounds like…. ‘town’. So what have TUIN and TOWN in common? TUIN is a garden with flowers or vegetables and TOWN a place with houses and streets. Both words go back to the medieval word ‘tūn’. And a ‘tūn’ in those days referred to an enclosed space. So a town is originally a place with walls around it. And a garden is usually also enclosed by walls or hedges.

poes tuin

The Dutch also have the word GAARD for TUIN. GAARD sounds old-fashioned, but can still be found in BOOMGAARD, orchard, WIJNGAARD, vineyard or DIERGAARD, zoo. GAARD is clearly related to ‘garden’ or ‘yard’, German ‘Garten’ and French ‘jardin’. Another word for GAARD or TUIN is HAAG.

TUIN, GAARD and HAAG are old German words dating back to the early Middle Ages. They all mean fenced-off area. Yes, Old The Hague, La Haye, Den Haag, ‘s-Gravenhage owes its name to this meaning. The earliest name of the place is Die Haghe, literally the ‘Hedge’. The medieval noblemen, the counts, enjoyed this place in the dunes because it was a great hunting ground and so they had a hunting lodge built near a small lake in the dunes early thirteenth century. Lodge and lake are still there, right in the centre of the city: Binnenhof and Hofvijver.

Because The Hague did not receive the privilege of having walls the municipality could not call itself a town. Rival cities like Dordrecht, Delft, Leiden, Amsterdam and Haarlem (towns with walls) made sure that The Hague remained a humble village. It was Napoleon who early 19th century awarded city rights to The Hague, but by then the defensive walls were not necessary anymore. So The Hague is one of the few Dutch major cities without walls.

It may be fitting that the hedge is in the name of the Royal Residence and the Seat of Parliament because it has so many parks. In fact Den Haag is riddled with parks. And isn’t a park a large enclosed garden? The Hague could be seen as one big park between the sea, the dunes and the polders. It is a Park City that needs a lot of maintenance. ‘Let’s cultivate our garden’ (in French: ‘il faut cultiver notre jardin’) Voltaire wrote at the end of his famous novel ‘Candide’ (1759). Maybe he was secretly thinking of The Hague, the Dutch city that he visited several times in his life.