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Word of the day: aardig (friendly)

The Netherlands is riddled with B.N.ers (Bekende Nederlanders, ‘well-known Dutchies’) but Rogerio, a young student who followed our intensive course over the last few weeks, has become a B.E.-er, a BEKENDE EXPAT (a well-known expat). He performed in two short documentaries about our campaign SPREEK NEDERLANDS! MET MIJ! on national (NOS op 3) and provincial (RTV West) television.


Rogerio was very AARDIG (kind) to give so generously of his time, energy and talent. After his test he asked me what meanings the friendly word AARDIG can have and where it comes from. Has is it anything to with AARDE (earth)?

When Rogerio asked me this, I thought: ‘Great, finally a simple down-to-earth word. Easy peasy….’ How mistaken I was. AARDIG is an adjective which was made of the noun AARD which had four meanings in Middle Dutch: (1) ‘farmland’ or ‘field’, (2) ‘birth’ or ‘descent’ (3) ‘beautiful’ and (4) ‘crafty’. The first two meanings go back to Old Dutch ‘ertha’ which is ‘eorðe’ (earth) in Old English. So at first sight, Rogerio is right: AARDIG has a connection with ‘old man’ earth but via a detour.

According to etymologists the other two meanings of AARDIG were influenced by the Latin word ‘ars’ (art, craft) and in the fifteenth century ‘een aerdeghe dieveghe’ meant a crafty, sly thief (female). AARDIG could also mean ‘beautiful’ in those days. All these meanings got mixed up over the years.

However, modern AARDIG’s birth mother or birth father must have been the Germanic word AARD meaning ‘descent’. Someone of noble birth was ‘ardich’ which meant ‘excellent’ or ‘superb’ in the sense of ‘having an innate good constitution’.

The word ‘aard’ in the sense of ‘nature’, ‘disposition’ or ‘character’ is still alive and kicking. There is an ancient saying that people still use: ‘Hij heeft een aardje naar zijn vaartje’ (he’s a chip off the old block).

The eighteenth century word EIGENAARDIG (peculiar, strange) was borrowed from German ‘eigenartig’ which originally meant ‘having a character of its own’ but later came to mean ‘strange’ or ‘ideosyncretic’.

In Afrikaans the first meaning of AARDIG is ‘strange’, ‘funny’ or ‘roguish’. As you know, Afrikaans is a form of Dutch which was exported to South Africa in the 17th century. This strange negative meaning of AARDIG seems to go back to the medieval female thief who was crafty and sly. So if you see Rogerio in Jo’burg do not call him AARDIG.

Generally speaking, AARDIG is an extremely kind word. ‘Rogerio is een AARDIGE student’ means that we think he is very sympathetic.

But watch out! AARDIG can also have an ironical or denigratory sense. ‘Dat is een AARDIG restaurant.’ could mean it is charming, if said with the right intonation. However, ‘Dat restaurant is wel AARDIG.’ implies that it’s okay, but not very special. A place to avoid. ‘Hij is best AARDIG’, means that he has turned out friendlier than expected.

Strange how the Dutch word AARDIG evolved from ‘noble’, ‘crafty’ and ‘beautiful’ to ‘kind’ and ‘friendly’. AARDIG is een EIGENAARDIG woord.