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Word of the day: moed (courage)

What is the relation between English ‘mood’ and Dutch MOED? Feelings. The force of feelings. ‘Mood’ and MOED go back to the same medieval Germanic word ‘muot’ or Old English ‘mod’ meaning ‘mind’, ‘spirit’, ‘soul’ or ‘heart’. 


The medieval burghers applied ‘mod’ more and more for strong emotions such as ‘anger’ and ‘fearlessness’ and the Germans and the Dutch eventually focussed on the meaning of courage. The English, however, imported the French word ‘courage’ and reserved ‘mood’ for a more general frame of mind. The Germans and Dutch created the new word ‘Gemüt’ and ‘gemoed’ by extending the ‘mood’ with ‘ge’.

A courageous person is MOEDIG or DAPPER in Dutch and ‘mutig’ and ‘tapfer’ in German. If we could time travel to a medieval court, we would have heard DAPPER or ‘tapfer’ applied to brave knights performing courageous feats. However, since its introduction into late medieval England the word ‘dapper’ does not mean ‘bold’ or ‘fearless’ anymore, no it means ‘elegant’ or ‘jaunty’. Clearly something funny must have happened in the English evolution of ‘dapper’.

The Oxford English Dictionary has the answer. Some sarcastic English tournament watchers must have started using ‘dapper’ in an ironical and humorous way and jeered: ‘O look at that silly Dutch knnnnnnnn-ighut with his rámbustious lance on his so stálworthy steed, isn’t he dapper? Boo’.

In last week’s postings I went in search of MOEDIGE or DAPPERE Dutchmen and women and their epic stories as expressed in literature. I could not find the Dutch EPOS nor any literary heroes.

Annette reminded me this morning in the Ypenburger ‘Sport Accent’, where I flex my muscles, of the nobleman Gijsbrecht van Aemstel. He is the main character of a famous 17th-century history play by the Dutch ‘Shakespeare’ Joost van den Vondel 1587-1679). His popular play was performed in Amsterdam from 1638 to 1968 annually on New Year’s day.

The play tells about the siege of Amsterdam in 1304. After a violent battle Gijsbrecht is forced to flee to Prussia (now in Poland) where he founded Prussian Holland near Elbing. Apparently this is historically correct.

Gijsbrecht, a hero? This play the Dutch epic? Hardly. An Amsterdam epic possibly, but certainly not Netherlandish and definitely not globally known.

Herbert commented on yesterday’s posting by saying that the Netherlands knows many HELDEN (heroes) especially in the second World War. He rightly says that a HELD ‘is a courageous person, civil or military, who has behaved courageously in a way (helping other people under threat), that he or she might get killed. Many of such heroes did not ask for attention afterwards. Only others who noticed their acts could have reported them as heroes to be honoured, alive of after death (killed in action or executed).’ Thanks Herbert for reminding me.

True, there are many heroes in the world, most of them are nameless, and very few achieve eternal and international fame in literary epics. And at this point I should have had the MOED (courage) to tell you about the ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ which comes closest to a Dutch epic in my opinion, even though some think it sensational. Tomorrow I’ll pluck up new courage and tell you why.

For now I would like to honour a Dutch poet who celebrated his ninetieth birthday on Friday 9 August 2013. His name is Gerrit Kouwenaar. Because his work deserves more readers in the world, I’ll end this posting with a poem which was published in the Dutch national newspaper NRC-Handelsblad yesterday. I attempted a translation, so that you can have an impression of the sense of this marvellous piece of poetry.

In the heart of the poem you will find the word MOED (courage). The poet allows someone to speak who has not much time left and still has a lot of tasks to be done. Which tasks? Read on.


Men moet zijn zomers nog tellen, zijn vonnis
nog vellen, men moet zijn winter nog sneeuwen

men moet nog boodschappen doen voor het donker
de weg vraagt, zwarte kaarsen voor in de kelder

men moet de zonen nog moed inspreken, de dochters
een harnas aanmeten, ijswater koken leren

men moet de fotograaf nog de bloedplas wijzen
zijn huis ontwennen, zijn inktlint vernieuwen

men moet nog een kuil graven voor een vlinder
het ogenblik ruilen voor zijn vaders horloge –


One still has to count one’s summers, still has to pass
one’s judgment, one still has to snow one’s winter

one still has to go out shopping before darkness
will ask the way, black candles for in the cellar

one still has to instil courage into the sons, measure 
the daughters for a suit of armour, learn to boil icewater

one still has to point the photographer to the pool of blood
dissociate oneself from one’s house, renew one’s typewriter ribbon

one still has to dig a hole for a butterfly
swop the moment for one’s father’s watch – 

© translation Ruud Hisgen