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Word of the Day: gierig (stingy)

GIERIGHEID (greed) is one of the seven deadly sins. Pope Gregory I and the poet Dante Alighieri gave GIERIGHEID or HEBZUCHT (Greed aka Avarice) third place in their top of the sins. Lust is sin number one and Gluttony (GULZIGHEID) sin number two. The others are: sloth, wrath, envy and pride. 

In the nineteenth century Charles Dickens impersonated GIERIGHEID (greed) in the Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser of his famous 1843 novel ‘A Christmas Carol’. And a century later Ebenezer reincarnated in the Scottish Scrooge McDuck. The American artist Carl Barks created Donald Duck’s uncle in 1947. Why he gave him this Scottish surname, needs no explaining. The Dutch have a similar stingy reputation in the eyes of the Flemish.

The Dutch know Uncle Scrooge as Oom Dagobert. Why Dagobert? Because that’s what the Germans called him and the earliest Donald Duck stories were translated from German into Dutch. So why did the Germans call Scrooge Dagobert? His German translator Erika Fuchs borrowed his name from King Dagobert (c. 603 – 19 January 639) who was the last king of the Merovingian dynasty. Was this king as stingy as his 20th century namesake?

Erika Fuchs (her name means fox!) was probably not referring to the real King Dagobert. Se may have taken her inspiration from the old French song ‘Le bon roi Dagobert’ (Good king Dagobert). This song dates back to the good old but bloody days of the French Revolution, and ridiculed the French king of the time. In this 24 stanza long song the good King is continually criticized by Saint Eligius. The king’s trousers are worn, his skin is filthy, etcetera. To each criticism the king responds by asking the saint to help him out. When the saint points out that the king’s beard needs to be trimmed and that he needs soap for his chin, the king answers:

C’est vrai, lui dit le roi,
As-tu deux sous? Prête-les moi.
(It is true, the king told him, / have you two pennies? Lend them to me.)

The word GIERIG seems to refer to the bird called GIER (vulture) in Dutch. The way KIPPIG (short-sighted) is derived from KIP (chicken). However, in the case of GIERIG it is the other way around. The birdname GIER is derived from Middle Dutch GIER, which means ‘desire’. So GIERIG originally meant ‘desirous’, ‘greedy’ or ‘yearning’. Because the vulture always looks hungry and eager for food, it must have received the name GIER.

The English word ‘vulture’ is an anglicized form of Old French ‘voultour’ which goes back to Latin ‘vellere’ meaning ‘to pluck or to tear’.