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Word of the Day: drempel (threshold, ramp)

Taxidrivers hate the many DREMPELS (speed bumps) in the streets of The Hague and surroundings. Avril told me that last November a Hague taxidriver refused to go into a street near her home in Rijswijk. He insisted that he should take a roundabout route, ‘because’, so he said, ‘these ******* “drempels” ruin the suspension of my car.’ So Avril said ‘Stop here!’, got out of the car (being the stubborn person that she is) paid for the ride and walked home.


All Dutch cities and towns are full of sleeping policemen. DREMPELS come in all shapes and sizes. Some are so low that you don’t notice them. Others are so jagged and awkward that they scratch the bottom of your car, especially if the driver has not really slowed down.

The word DREMPEL is one of those mysterious words that have kept their original meanings in the dark. Etymologists managed to trace its history back to the fifteenth century and to Frisian tinted dialects. The word also occurs as DORPEL, which is still in use as well. Both words are probably related to the same verb: ‘drampen’ meaning ‘to trample’. Weird, the English word ‘threshold’ contains ‘to thresh’, which is Dutch ‘dorsen’. Another form of trampling. Old English ‘þrescan’ means ‘to beat and sift grain by trampling or beating’.

So it is clear that DREMPEL, DORPEL and ‘threshold’ go back to a similar primal meaning and that it had something to do with ‘threshing’. Or was the DREMPEL some kind of sacred border between inside and outside, between the safety of home and the brute forces of nature? A spot that you should not trample.

In superstitious times there were places in the country where it was taboo to step on a DREMPEL when entering or leaving the house because the devil was said to be asleep underneath. Making a noise could wake this diabolical being in his fiery abode and hell was raised.

Fear of waking the devil is a sensible motivation for the ancient tradition that ‘transmits’ that a BRUIDEGOM (bridegroom) will carry his BRUID (bride) across the threshold of the new home after the wedding ceremony. (See my previous posting on BRUILOFT.)

But let’s return to modern times. Even though they are annoying, today’s DREMPELS in traffic have a significant function, viz. not to wake the speed devil slumbering inside every driver. Let’s not forget that these VERKEERSDREMPELS are there to slow down the killer-cars, so that sluggish pensioners, whimsical children and the vapid in-betweens can cross the road safely. They are there for our VEILIGHEID (safety). DREMPELS HOUDEN JE VEILIG! Ramps keep you safe!

(See my previous posting on VEILIG.)