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Word of the Day: ouwehoer (bullshitter)

Not yet being able to pronounce the ‘r’, I said: ‘Ouwehoel niet zo!’ 

It was the very first coherent phrase I uttered as a toddler, almost sixty years ago. True or not, it’s an anecdote that my mother and grandmother used to repeat over and over again at thousands of chatty coffee times. The ‘OUWEHOER’ I admonished was my grandfather, the kind professional children’s photographer of the Anna Paulownastraat in The Hague. A couple of years later he died of lung cancer because he had smoked for so many years, especially when he was at work in his dark room.


Anyway, here is the situation in which I came to this outburst. I was quietly minding myself and playing with empty matchboxes at the kitchen table while my grandfather tried very hard to catch my attention and win me over with empty chit chat and silly talk. So I echoed what I must have heard grown-ups exclaim, thinking there are no witnesses around. ‘Ouwehoel niet zo!’ (Stop bullshitting me, stop nattering.)

A person who cannot stop waffling on is an OUWEHOER (male or female). And his or her yackety-yack is called OUWEHOEREN. Both verb and noun are colloquial. They have nothing to do with the two original words OUD, old and the abusive HOER, whore. There is no age limit to an OUWEHOER. The word seems to point to a mythical time when old or retired prostitutes had a reputation for blabbering.

Whores, so they say have the oldest profession in the world, but I don’t buy it. I think artists, poets, priests and farmers were there first. However, there is no denying it, the word HOER is extremely old. And it has survived with its original meaning in some form in most Germanic languages: English, Danish, German, Frisian, Swedish and Norwegian.

According to the etymological dictionary the word goes back to the Indo-European word for ‘love’. A HOER then was just a lover. However, in the Middle Ages the word was being used for adultery and infidelity. The Old English word is ‘hōr’. Since then a HOER is a person who lures horny males and provides sexual favours in exchange of money.

Someone who makes use of these services is called a HOERENLOPER, a visitor of prostitutes. You can watch these HOERENLOPERS in a HOERENSTRAAT like the Doubletstraat in the centre of The Hague, a narrow street, opposite the house where the famous philosopher Spinoza worked from 1670 until he died in 1677. Back then the area was also riddled with whores.

Spinoza’s statue reminds us that we are all humble humans, all slaves to our passions. He seems to say that there will always be HOEREN and HOERENLOPERS because reason is impotent. Homo sapiens, ‘wise man’: NONSENS, ONZIN. People may seem reasonable but, so he says, there is no way that they can stop blabbering. It is in their nature. Wittgenstein concluded his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) : ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent’. Which is a less sophisticated way of saying: ‘OUWEHOER niet zo!

Which brings me to tomorrow’s word of the day: ZWIJGEN, to be silent.

Photo of his grandson by Gustaaf Hisgen (1888-1957)