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Word of the Day: luier (nappy, diaper)

Yes I agree, Zsuzsa, LUIER is a strange word. It is so common and yet so unique. When you were changing Noah’s nappy for the umpteenth time, you were probably wondering about the origins of the word. I can see you standing there with the dirty thing in your hand, thinking: ‘LUIER, nappy, napkin, diaper, pamper….’ How do they connect?


Well, LUIER is an ancient Dutch word. It stems from the Middle Ages. Originally it was ‘ludere’ which meant a piece of cloth. Since the Dutch hate pronouncing the consonant ‘d’ between two vowels (they still do), the ‘d’ disappeared over time. Think of ‘rode’ (red) which is usually pronounced as ‘rooie’. Or ‘dode’ (dead) as ‘dooie’. Or ‘leder’ (leather) which has become ‘leer’. And that is probably all we can say about this melodious, yet odorous and for some odious word.

Except that an older form of the word LUIER is hidden in the expression: ‘iemand in de luren leggen’. Literally it means ‘to put someone into nappies’. A meaning that was lost because nobody associates ‘luren’ with LUIER anymore. The expression now means ‘to take someone for a ride’ or ‘to outsmart someone’.

And the word ‘nappy’? Ha, it goes back to the medieval Dutch word ‘nap’ or ‘nop’ (a downy surface of cloth). This word was most likely introduced to English by Flemish cloth-workers in the fifteenth century.

And ‘diaper’? This is an ancient word too. It is much more elegant than LUIER because it comes from Old French ‘diaspre’ meaning ‘ornamental cloth; flowered, patterned silk cloth’.

The modern word ‘pamper’ comes from the disposable diaper which Procter & Gamble introduced in the nineteensixties. We now use the word as a synonym for LUIER even when people use another brand. Surprise, surprise, the word ‘pamper’ is originally Middle Dutch. It comes from ‘pampen’ or ‘pampelen’ meaning ‘to stuff someone with food’.

To Noah all this airy chatter is bunkum. He does not care whether he gets a LUIER, a pamper, a nappy or a diaper, as long as it is fresh, dry and clean.

Photo Noah with his diaper, thanks Zsuzsa!