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Word of the day: eenzaam (lonely, lonesome)

Whenever I imagine the word EENZAAM, I get a lump in my throat. This must be the saddest word in the Dutch language. The English word ‘lonesome’ sounds equally sad, yes lonelier than ‘lonely’ even though both words mean the same.




Both English words are related to the Middle English word ‘alone’ and its shortened form ‘lone’, which means ‘companionless’ or ‘solitary’. ‘Alone’ is a contraction of Old English ‘all’ and ‘ane’ (all one). German has ‘allein’ and Dutch ALLEEN.

All these Germanic words, EENZAAM, ‘lonely’, ‘lonesome’, ‘alone’, ‘allein’ and ALLEEN, are variations of the word EEN (one). They all mean ‘companionless’ but it’s only ‘EENZAAM’, German ‘einsam’ and English ‘lonesome’ that has the power to make my heart shrink.

A human being is not meant to be a ‘lone wolf’ or a ‘lone ranger’. ‘All by oneself’ sounds tough and alright ‘but that won’t keep me warm in the middle of the night’ as Shania Twain sings. 

Even though some will deny it, all human beings thrive on GEZELLIGHEID (companionableness, cosiness). Many Dutch, however, have forgotten that this characteristic Dutch word GEZELLIG, dating from the Middle Ages, refers to the near extinct word GEZEL which means ‘companion’ or ‘mate’. Over the last decades the word GEZELLIG depreciated so much that it very often now means little more than ‘nice’ or ‘entertaining’. And people don’t seem to matter. ‘Leuk, maar niet heus!’ (Nice but not really!)

EENZAAM MAAR NIET ALLEEN (lonesome but not alone) was the adage of Queen Wilhelmina who was born in The Hague, lived from 31 August 1880–28 November 1962) and reigned for almost 58 years from 1890 to 1948. Her maxim was also the title of the autobiography she wrote at the end of her difficult life.

Wilhelmina was Emma’s daughter, Juliana’s mother, Beatrix’ grandmother and Willem Alexander’s great grandmother. She reigned through the first World War and the second World War, the 1933 crisis, and she saw the Dutch nation decline as a colonial power.

Many Dutch know Wilhelmina (or Willemien, her pet name) as the heroine of the Second World War, when she was an icon of resistance against the Germans. During her exile in London she broadcast ardent messages to the Dutch people over Radio Oranje, calling Hitler ‘the arch-enemy of mankind’. Those Dutch who were so lucky as to have a radio, listened in secret to her late-night broadcasts. Churchill who also broadcast messages, called Queen Wilhelmina the only real man among the exiled governments in London.

She was strong as a rock but Wilhelmina was also very EENZAAM. Her marriage with Prince Hendrik who died in 1934 was extremely unhappy. She loved being on her own, but being a Queen, she was never ALLEEN. The only companion in her life was her daughter Juliana. She enjoyed painting and tried to find comfort in being ALLEEN (alone) in nature.

Wilhelmina was also very religious. When she died in Het Loo Palace at the age of 82 in 1962, her funeral was completely in white. This was done at her request because she believed death to be the beginning of eternal life. You can see the Royal Family crypt in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft where she lies buried.

But if you want to see her alive and steady as a rock go to the Noordeinde. Right in front of the Royal Palace behind the statue of Willem I (father of the fatherland) and the chestnut a wonderfully sturdy statue reminds us of her unique personality. The sculpture was created by the artist Charlotte van Pallandt (1898-1997) in 1968. Not surprisingly the words engraved in the wall behind are: EENZAAM MAAR NIET ALLEEN (lonesome but not alone).