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Word of the day: folklore (folklore)

Yes, it’s true, there could easily be a WEERWOLF in me. As most of my friends know, I am a nighttime person. And my name, Rudolf, means famous wolf.



I return to WEERWOLF, because in the heat of the last posting moment I forgot to tell you what the origin of the word is. WEER has nothing to do with ‘weather’ as in WEERMAN (weatherman). WEER comes from the word ‘wer’ which is related to Latin ‘vir’ and means ‘man’. We find the same word in WERELD (which means ‘old man’). So I could be a ‘manwolf’. Well, if I am, I hope that I’m harmless. Should you meet the grim furry wolf in me slouching along the streets after midnight when the moon is full, don’t shoot me. Unless… No…

The WEERWOLF (werewolf) is part of an ancient worldwide tradition and is thus called FOLKLORE. FOLKLORE. Surprise, surprise! Some words look ancient and even ancienter than old man earth. WEERWOLF and FOLKLORE are such words. But how old do you think FOLKLORE is? Prehistoric? Medieval? Premedieval? Gothic? Indo-European? Germanic? All wrong.

FOLKLORE was coined in Queen Victoria’s reign! A mere 167 years ago. Around the time when Charles Darwin was throwing light on the origin and evolution of life on earth. On 22nd of August, 1846, antiquarian William J. Thoms (pseudonym of Ambrose Merton 1803-1885) first published this word as a replacement for ‘popular antiquities’ in a magazine called ‘Athenaeum’.

The word ‘folklore’ (pronounced with three syllables) entered the Dutch language in 1887. It meant popular tradition or legend. ‘Folk’ and ‘Lore’ as separate words have a much longer history. ‘Folk’ (Dutch VOLK) occurs in Old English as ‘folc’ meaning: common people, men; people, nation, tribe; multitude and more…

‘Lore’ also made its appearance in Old English as ‘lar’ meaning: learning, what is taught, knowledge, science, doctrine and more… In Dutch it is ‘leer’. So the Dutch translation of Thoms’ word FOLKLORE should have been ‘volkleer’. According to the Van Dale Dictionary FOLKLORE can be defined as: ‘de gezamenlijke, vooral traditionele volkscultuurverschijnselen, gebruiken, overleveringen e.d.’ (the collective, especially traditional phenomena, customs, traditions etc of folk culture). The word ‘traditionele overlevering’ is like ‘white snow’ a pleonasm.

A queer tale of FOLKLORE can be found at the heart of The Hague cemented in the street, opposite the mansion at the Korte Vijverberg 3 which has accommodated the ‘Kabinet van de Koningin’ (the Queen’s Cabinet) since 1913. It is a monument that is very easy to overlook. Between the stones there are three letters and an odd compass needle: S (for Suyd, Zuid, South), O (for Oost, East) and W (for West). The clumsy arrow points in the direction of North. According to tradition this compass tells a gruesome tale.

Oost, West, Zuid, Noord:
Hier ligt een kind vermoord.

North, South, East, West,
Here a murdered child was laid to rest. 

Apparently there is this urban legend that someone at some time in the distant past murdered a nameless child and had it buried near the Hofvijver. How, you ask, do I know this story?

The child-killer could not have been me under the spell of the full moon because the story is much older than me. I happened to know this folkloric story because I found it in the Nederlandse Volksverhalenbank van het Meertens Instituut (the Dutch Folk Tale Bank of the Meertens Institute) which was founded in 1994 and now holds over 40,000 stories. You can consult the online Folk Tale Bank for other stories. This is story SPORDS42.