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Word of the Day: bruiloft (wedding)

The other day Hans asked: ‘Has the word BRUILOFT something to do with the expression “de brui eraan geven”? Such a connection would be ironical since so many married couples “chuck it in” these days.’


The short answer is no. The word BRUI in ‘de brui eraan geven’ comes from the verb BRUIEN meaning ‘to thrust’. In the south of the Netherlands a similar expression was ‘de neuk geven’. The word ‘neuken’ also means to thrust, and, yes figuratively speaking, it is also the F-word. Apparently English ‘f**k’, Dutch ‘fokken’ (breed) and Swedish ‘fokka’ (copulate) are related and must share the same historical stem. ‘Ik geef er de brui aan!’ could be translated aggressively as ‘f**k it!’.

So, yes Hans, it looks like there is some connection. A BRUILOFT usually leads to offspring, and offspring cannot be achieved without some old-fashioned BRUIEN (thrusting). But the word BRUILOFT is so much more romantic! It really has nothing to do with BRUIEN and its sexual overtones.

BRUILOFT is connected to BRUID, an ancient word originally meaning ‘young woman’. In Old English it was ‘bryd’. English and Dutch have always been loyal to the word: ‘bride’ and BRUID. From the 16th century it started to mean fiancé. A ‘bridegroom’ (Dutch BRUIDEGOM) is simply the man (‘groom’, ‘gom’) of the bride.

English ‘wedding’ and Dutch WEDDEN (bet, wager, gamble) look alike and have close family ties. Both words come from the word WEDDE meaning ‘pledge’, ‘pawn’ or ‘collateral’. Originally the English ‘wedding’ was a ceremony in which a woman was made one’s wife by giving a pledge.

The Dutch are more romantic and only use the word WEDDEN when they gamble. Now, one could perhaps argue that a BRUILOFT (wedding) is another word for a gamble of love. But ‘gamble’ blackens the name for the heartrending ceremony during which two partners say yes to lifelong sharing for better or worse, for good or ill and through rough and smooth.

Before the English adopted the business-like word ‘wedding’ they also had the word ‘brydhlop’ (‘bridelope’). This word, consisting of ‘bride’ and ‘lope’ (Dutch ‘lopen’), literally means ‘bridal run’. The old Dutch word was ‘brulogt’ or ‘brudlocht’ in which we recognize BRUID and ‘locht or ‘loft’ (also meaning ‘run’).

There are two explanations for this ‘briderun’. Some etymologists think it refers to the ceremony in which the young woman is walked to the house of her new husband. Other, more romantic etymologists (yes, they exist) think the bridal run goes back to an old tradition in which the two lovers ran away as fast as they could in order to drive away the demons and live happily ever after. I tend to agree with the latter etymologists. What about you?