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Word of the Day: dijk (dike)

Is there a word that is ‘Dutcher’ than DIJK? I doubt it. Dutch and DIJK (dike, dyke, bank, levee) go hand in hand. The DIJKEN can be found anywhere in the country and without them the sea and the rivers would just have free play. You cycle through the countryside and suddenly you see a canal on your right hand side whose water level is three metres lower than the ditch on your left hand side. More than likely you are cycling along a dike.


Where does the age-old word DIJK come from? The word ‘ditch’ will give you a clue. Originally this Germanic word referred to an earthwork with a ditch (a GRACHT, canal). So at first it was an excavation. Later the word exclusively referred to the heaped up earth mound next to it. And yes, the word DIJK is related to the verb ‘to dig’ which in some dark past must have meant ‘to cut’ (as in to cut turf: TURF STEKEN).

And (I just know that you have this burning question in mind, come on, don’t deny it…) is there some relationship between DIJK and the American ‘dyke’ (as in ‘macho lesbian’)? English and American etymologists say no, there is not! But I don’t accept their weird explanation that ‘dyke’ goes back to ‘morphadike’, which is supposed to be a garbled version of hermaphrodite, or to bulldyker or to a source from 1896 which lists dyke as slang for the vulva. I do NOT buy this explanation! And I don’t dig it. D’you know why?

According to the Dutch dictionary of thieves’ slang a DIJK is either ‘a large, sexually attractive woman’ or ‘a lesbian with masculine presence’. And it seems to me much more feasible that a nameless American tourist, secretly visiting the international pool of bottomless sin at the beginning of the twentieth century, picked up this word and imported it into his or her own language where it has remained alive and kicking to this day. Some words move in mysterious ways. The word has returned to its home ground and is sometimes used as a synonym of the other ugly word ‘manwijf’ (no translation needed here).

To me the word DIJK expresses ‘energy’, ‘strength’ and ‘beauty’. Lesbians should be proud of this strong and respectful name which reminds us of beautiful dams that keep our country safe from the quirks and whims of wild and often violent water. ‘Een dijk van een vrouw (or man)’ means: someone you can rely on, a strong character.

But enough about DYKES, back to the Dutchest word of all water related words: DIJK. The Afsluitdijk (Enclosure Dam) constructed between 1927 and 1933 and running from the province of North Holland province, to the province of Friesland has a length of 32 kilometres. As I said, there are thousands of kinds of dikes and dams all over the Netherlands: small ones, large ones, long, short ones, high ones, dikes with houses on them, dikes with cows or sheep, poignant dikes, lonesome dikes and invisible dikes.

Yes, invisible dikes. Scheveningen has just received a new dike which is ingeniously hidden in the boulevard. Spanish architect Manuel de Solà-Morales (1939-2013) drew up a design for the new Scheveningen boulevard. This was really necessary because the coast at Scheveningen is a weak link which might collapse in the event of a storm surge. Manuel de Solà-Morales constructed the boulevard in such a way that it follows the undulating course of the old dunes, thus bringing three areas of Scheveningen closer together: Scheveningen-Bad, Scheveningen-Dorp and Scheveningen-Haven.

When asked how his wonderful design came about, he answered:
‘To start with I took a stroll along the sea: the joy of walking, enjoying the magnificent view, the opportunity to meet people, the encounters between the beach and the pavilions. All elements of the design emphasize this thinking process: the serpentine shape of the boulevard, the differences in level, the colours and materials.’

Unfortunately the architect died before he could see the fruit of his wonderful design.