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Word of the Day: onzin (nonsense)

Jet suggested the word RAASKALLEN (rave, talk gibberish or nonsense). A lovely word that dates back to the early seventeenth century and is still in general use. Lots of people love to RAASKAL… So do I when I am on my FIETS or RIJWIEL (bicycle, see previous postings). Especially when I’m slightly depressed, it helps to RAASKAL to myself somewhat. Sometimes there is a look of surprise, when another cyclist realizes I am not speaking into my cell phone but to myself. When words are up in the air, they fly around, sometimes they start to hum and sing, and make you happy. 


The verb RAASKALLEN consists of two separate verbs: RAZEN, rage and KALLEN, an out of use verb for ‘talk’. In Scheveningen there used to be a place for old fishermen called the KALHUIS, a sheltered place where they can chat (now in the Muzee).

A milder, more controlled form of RAASKAL is ONZIN, nonsense. This could even be a form of art. The British are very good at ONZIN literature, just think of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Children are fond of nonsense fiction and rhyme, but, as Monty Python’s Flying Circus demonstrated, there is no age limit. The only quality needed for appreciating the art of nonsense is a sense of humour.

The Netherlands can boast of many excellent nonsense writers. Many of them unknown abroad because of the language barrier. When you live here, you probably heard of Annie M.G. Schmidt (1911-1995) whose children’s books are still in print. She is best known for her ‘Jip en Janneke’ novels, but she also wrote hundreds of excellent poems. Most Dutch grew up with her texts, so if you want to get to know these Dutchies a little better, it is well worth a visit to the library and take a peek at her books. Excellent study material for Dutch students.

Thinking of my own first reading experiences I have fond memories of the novels by Daan van der Vat (1909-1977). In his professional life he was a scholar of English literature at Leiden University, later a journalist based in England. He published his children’s prose and poetry under the pseudonym of Daan Zonderland. You’ll find his books for next to nothing in second hand bookshops or bookmarkets.

To give you a taste of his work, here is a nonsensical poem from ‘Jeroen in Hazevoets Rijk’ (‘Jeroen in Hazevoets Realm’) from 1960. Translated for you as literally as possible.

Er staat een boom in Nederland
Dicht bij het plaatsje Duiven.
Daar groeien rode neuzen aan
En al die neuzen snuiven.

Zodra het echter winter wordt
En het begint te vriezen,
Dan worden al die neuzen paars
En al die neuzen niezen.

There is a tree in Netherlands
Somewhere near Guelders Poort.
On this tree red noses grow
And all those noses snort.

As soon as winter comes
And water starts to freeze,
All those noses will turn blue
And all those noses sneeze.

(translated by Ruud Hisgen, Direct Dutch)