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Word of the Day: veilig (safe)

This weekend we witnessed the birth of a new Dutch way of saying ‘goodbye’. We already had ‘dag’, ‘vaarwel’, ‘doei’ etcetera but now there is HOU JE VEILIG (‘keep safe’). 


Words come and go in any living language and today’s Dutch, too, is brimming over with new words. Yet the events of these births usually remain unnoticed. It is very rare that you can actually see a new word or phrase being born. However, if you watched the popular television programme Pauw en Witteman last Friday round eleven thirty, you had the honour of being witness to the birth of HOU JE VEILIG (‘Keep safe’).

The person who announced the birth of this parting gesture is linguist Wim Daniëls when he was analyzing the text of ‘Het Koningslied’ (‘The King’s song’) composed by John Ewbank, written by him and several other Dutch ‘Bekende Nederlanders’ (‘well-known Dutchmen’) like his friend Marco Borsato in ‘honour’ of our new King Willem-Alexander.

Of the song Daniëls said that it was unworthy of a king because of the melodramatic message and the many grammatical mistakes. The song that addresses the King as ‘jij’ (and not ‘u’, for shame!), ends as follows:

Ik zal strijden als een leeuw
Tot het jou aan niets ontbreekt
Hou je veilig zo lang als ik leef

(I will fight like a lion
Until you shall want for nothing
Keep you safe as long as I live)

At the end of the programme Jeroen Pauw wished everyone goodnight and he sneered: HOU JE VEILIG. Sunday morning the popular talk show host Eva Jinek also concluded her programme with HOU JE VEILIG and giggled.

I am sure that this new ‘goodbye’ will become current before long and people will eventually forget where it came from.

The word VEILIG has an interesting history. It goes back to Middle Dutch VEIL. In Old English it is ‘fǣle’ (loyal, dear). VEIL which was used until the 18th century meant ‘protected against danger’. The expression ‘frank en vrij’ (free as a bird) was originally ‘vrank en veil’ (free and safe). However, because people had forgotten VEIL they had replaced it by VRIJ.

Dutch knows many adjectives ending in –ig: hongerig (hungry), dorstig (thirsty), vochtig (wet), levendig (lively) etc. These words still have meaningful original words: honger, dorst, vocht, levend. VEILIG, however, is on its own.