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Word of the Day: gammel (rickety)

Yesterday I discussed Scandinavian television series and the many Dutch sounding words that I hear. WAKKER (awake) and Swedish ‘wacker’ (pretty) unloosed an interesting discussion about the possible evolution of the words.Today the ancient Dutch word GAMMEL.


Now I happen to know that Swedish ‘gammal’ does not mean GAMMEL ‘rickety’ or ‘tumbledown’, but plain ‘old’ or ‘ancient’. The first words of the national anthem of Sweden ‘Du gamla, Du fria’ have nothing to do with being ‘worse for wear’ or ‘freezing coldness’. They mean : ‘Thou ancient, Thou free’ and address the ancient nation. And the oldest part of Stockholm is called Gamla Stan. It dates back to the thirteenth century which makes the capital of Sweden as old as The Hague.

If I were to sing glory to Oud Den Haag, I would not call it GAMMEL. My ninety-two year old father is GAMMEL but his mind is as sharp as ever. Another lovely word for GAMMEL is KRAKKEMIKKIG which echoes the sound of old creaking furniture. When young people complain that they’re feeling GAMMEL after Koninginnenach, they must have drunk too much.

GAMMEL and Swedish ‘gammal’ (old) are obviously related. English still had the word in Old English ‘gamol’ but it went out of use. The original meaning must have been plain ‘old’ which it still is in Swedish. Gammel in German means ‘garbage’ nowadays and ‘gammelig’ ‘untidy’, ‘careless’.

When my ninety year old grandmother was close to her dying day in 1992, she felt very very very old and listless and she would sigh: ‘Ik ben oud en der dagen zat’. Which means: ‘I am old and weary of life’. I would always answer: ‘Nonsense, onzin’. But that never cheered her up.

Tomorrow a brighter and more lighthearted word: FLIKKER.