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Word of the Day: gezin (family)

Is it ‘DE’ or ‘HET’ GEZIN? What do you think? Answer: HET GEZIN. Most words with two syllables starting with ‘ge’ are HET-words. GELUK, happiness. GEBOUW, building. GEVOEL, feeling. GELOOF, faith. GEDOE, ado, fuss. GEDICHT, poem,.. They are all HET! 


HET GEZIN is een GEZELLIG woord. For GEZELLIG see yesterday’s post.

As far as I know, Dutch is the only language that has a special word for the nuclear family. The word FAMILIE (de-word) can refer both to the entire structure of relatives (grandparents, parents, children, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) and to the members of one household (parents and their children). These two meanings of FAMILIE are packed tightly in French ‘famille’, German ‘Familie’ and English ‘family’.

HET GEZIN in the Netherlands is still the cornerstone of society even though the number of divorces has increased over the last fifty years. A GEZIN around 1900 consisted of two parents with an average of three children. Since the nineteen seventies a GEZIN has an average of two children. The average GEZIN can consist of the following members: VADER (PAPA), MOEDER, (MAMA), ZOON, DOCHTER (BROER and ZUS).

Since 2001 people of the same sex can get married in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is the first city in the world in history where gay marriages can be contracted. Since then only fourteen other countries have followed.

So where does the word GEZIN come from? It goes back to medieval times, to the word ‘ghesinde’ meaning travelling companion. In the word ‘ghesinde’ the verb ‘zenden’ can be recognized, which is still to be found in the word ‘ZENDING’ (mission). The word evolved from travelling companion to travelling group and originally it referred to all the members accompanying highplaced persons. In other words their servants.

The word ‘ghesinde’ for this noble household was then used for all people attached to farm houses and eventually the inmates of other houses. An inmate of the family was called a ‘huusghesinde’ as early as 1300.

Unfortunately this historical word GEZIN is on the way out. Soon the Dutch will just have the one word FAMILIE. It is peculiar that this word stemming from Latin ‘familia’ is related to the word ‘famulus’ meaning servant. The German word ‘Gesinde’ still means personnel at a farm.

The photo shows the four members of my friend Nathalie’s GEZIN. It clearly is een GELUKKIG GEZIN (happy family). Thank you Nathalie for this photo and for this happy word.