Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië 275, The Hague, The Netherlands +31(0)70 365 46 77

Word of the Day: vogel (bird)

Vogel (/vo.χəl/).

Spring is late in The Hague. The previous week was one of the coldest March periods in a long, long time. All those birds that had been warbling merrily that spring had finally arrived, have now shut their bills and beaks. It is HUFTERIG WEER (chilly weather) as the West Frisians say. (See my previous post on HUFTER).

Yesterday’s word DUIF, pigeon elicited Charvis’ comment: ‘I had a pet pigeon a few years ago which I saved from the burning sun when I was on holidays in Italy. I named him “vogel” and he lived with me for over four years. Vogel was a very special dove!’ Wonderful, naming your pigeon VOGEL.

The word VOGEL, bird goes back to the eighth century when it was written as ‘fogal’. In Old English it is ‘fugel’ which can still be found in the word ‘fowl’ (in Dutch ‘hoen’). The origins of the word are unknown but etymologists think it was derived from ‘flugla’ (to fly). The English word ‘bird’ originally meant ‘young bird’ or ‘nestling’. The word ‘bird’ is quite unique, since there is no word like it in any other language.

The very first Dutch poem that we know is about birds. It is one of the oldest texts in Dutch. It was discovered in 1932 on the flyleaf of an 11th century manuscript from the abbey of Rochester, Kent. It is a beautiful little poem (a translation from Latin) and it could have been written yesterday. The only word that is lost in modern Dutch is ‘hinase’. Here it is:

Hebban olla vogala
nestas hagunnan
hinas hic enda thu
wat unbidan we nu?

In modern Dutch:

Hebben alle vogels
nesten begonnen
behalve ik en jij
wat verbeiden we nu?
(= waar wachten we nu op?)

In English:

Have all birds
nests begun
except I and thou
what are we waiting for now?

It is clearly a love poem. But this poses a problem because the lines were written by a monk in order to test his pen. Can you imagine a monk writing about building a nest, settling down and starting a family? Maybe he was not talking about worldly love… What do you think?