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Word of the Day: Saampjes, together

It is a truth universally acknowledged that two people very much in love desire nothing more than to be together. All they want is: Us Two! In Dutch: SAAMPJES! Elmar (who suggested the word DUTJE for yesterday’s post) lives in Voorburg and his beloved Claudia in Mexico. The other day he posted the attached cartoon on Facebook and he was overjoyed to tell his friends that soon they will be SAMEN, together. SAAMPJES and forever happy!

This is great, but why, I wonder, are the Dutch so fond of diminutives? I may be Dutch but it is a mystery to me. Why does it always have to be SAAMPJES and cannot it just be SAMEN? SCHATJE instead of SCHAT. BIERTJE, PILSJE, BOOMPJE, HUISJE, BEESTJE, POESJE, MANNETJE, VROUWTJE…? I understand KOEKJE and GEBAKJE because they are smaller in size than KOEK and GEBAK (cake). But LIEFJE, sweetie-pie… yuk!

Words ending in ‘je’ are usually intended as endearments. When we make something or somebody smaller in our minds than in real life, this object or person must have a greater appeal. Our instincts tell us that ‘big and tall’ is ugly, fearful, horrid and ‘small and tiny’ must be sweet and charming.The Dutch are not the only people who love to make things and persons smaller in their speech. The Scots use ‘wee’ (a wee bit), the English ‘ie’ (duckie), the Irish add the suffix ‘een’ (colleen, smithereens), the Germans the suffix ‘chen’ (Häuschen), the French ‘ette’ (fillette). But this usage is nothing compared to the rife Dutch practice of abusing and mutilating every and each word by affixing ‘je’.

Adding ‘je’ to a word need not always come from noble motives. It can also have a pejorative goal. There is no greater abuse than calling a manly man LULLETJE. LUL meaning ‘bastard’ or ‘prick’ is bad as it is, but LULLETJE exceeds everything, especially in the combination LULLETJE ROZENWATER (wally). This word makes any giant shrink to smurfish proportions. Do not experiment loosely with this word, expats!

Back to SAMEN, together. Where does it come from? It is a very old word going back to the Indo-European root ‘one’. Old English had ‘somen’. Together with the suffix ‘te’ it became TESAMEN. In German: ‘zusammen’. There is an old Dutch word ‘tegader’ which shows kinship to English ‘together’. Old English ‘gædrian’ means ‘unite’, ‘assemble’ or ‘gather’.

Both TEGADER and (TE)SAMEN express unity and oneness in a noble and grand way. The idea of ‘society’ (a great variety of people trying to live together) could not be better or more beautifully expressed than in the Dutch word SAMENLEVING. Fortunately it is a word whose character will always resist diminutivisation. Just try it out and see how absurd it looks: ‘samenlevinkje’ or even worse: ‘saampjesleving’. NO!

Anyway enough of that, great, Claudia, that you’ll soon SAMENLEEFT with Elmar and welcome to our Dutch SAMENLEVING.