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Word of the day: bezielen (inspire)

Charlotte, a Dutch friend who has been living in Waterford in Eire for over ten years now, commented on my last posting about the word DICHT (meaning both ‘poem’ and ‘closed’, two etymologically unrelated words) that she thinks BEZIELEND (inspiring) a wonderful word. I could not agree more! It has so much more soul than the English word ‘inspiring’. 

In Dutch you can feel, smell, taste, hear and see the core of the word which is ZIEL (soul). In English its heart is cold and alien for everyone except Latin scholars. Its closest relatives are the ‘Spire’ family: ‘aspire’, ‘perspire’, ‘transpire’ and ‘expire’.

The English word was borrowed from the French 13th century verb ‘enspirer’. And French stole it from Latin ‘inspirare’ (inflame). It is a pity that the English never translated it into ‘inflame’ as in: ‘She really thinks the ‘Ethics’ by Spinoza so inflaming…’ But no, inspiring it is and inspiring it will be. Soulless!

The passionate Germans, on the other hand, did translate ‘inspirare’ and so the phrase ‘inspiring words’, for instance, has become ‘zündende’ or ‘anfeuernde Worte’. Sounds inflammatory, doesn’t it? Germans also use the verb ‘begeisteren’ which is the equivalent of Dutch BEZIELEN, since ‘Geist’ is ‘ZIEL’ or ‘GEEST’.

The Dutch word ZIEL has a long history and, even though we can’t know this for sure, I would bet that it goes back to the days when our species was still hunting, gathering and scavenging. It must have been born in the days when man started burying or burning the corpses, the days when it dawned on the mind that there is more to this life than the body, sleep, safety, food and sex, the days that man invented gods and later one God…

My favourite etymologist Nicoline van der Sijs, who compiled the unfailing Dutch wordhoard Etymologiebank, and her colleagues say that the origins of the word ZIEL are unknown. The roots must lie hidden in misty Germanic marshes of the squelchy delta coast, even before the word was uttered as ‘saiwalo’.

Some word historians say that the words ‘saiwala’ (Gothic), ‘seola’ (Old Saxon), ‘sala’ (Old Norse), ‘sele’ (Old Frisian), ‘siele’ (Middle Dutch), ‘seula’ (Old High German) and ‘sawol’ (Old English) are brothers and sisters of a vanished word that must have meant ‘coming from the sea’. In those pre-Christian and pre-Moslim days the sea was seen as the waiting room of the soul before birth and after death.

What a heart warming image and vision…. This explains why I have always found the sea so BEZIELEND, ‘begeisterend’, yes even ‘inspiring’. The sea is the soul of the world.

Whenever I am at my wit’s end (in Dutch: aan het eind van mijn Latijn, meaning at the end of my Latin), I cycle to the beach, walk towards the waves and say ‘ha die zee’ (hello sea). Usually the sea doesn’t answer back in language. Instead she fills my head, at first with tranquillity and later with bright ideas and pleasant feelings.

This morning, before the invasion of the sunbathers started, I was contemplating Charlotte’s BEZIELENDE suggestion standing at the edge of the sea, my sea. The breakers told me to go to the City Hall and its atrium.

Yesterday, Wednesday 3rd September, the bust of Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914) was unveiled by Ms Linda Thorell Hills (the great-granddaughter of Andrew Carnegie, who so generously financed the Peace Palace a hundred years ago).

The bronze bust was created by the Hague artist Ingrid Rollema (see my previous posting about WEERWOLF, werewolf). After the bust had been exposed to all the highly placed invitees, alderman of culture Ms Marjolein de Jong said that it would be placed in the educational museum Museon. She said the Museon is a good spot for this lady because children find her very inspiring.

Some people have the gift of being born BEZIELEND. Last week we celebrated Martin Luther King and his BEZIELENDE ‘I have a dream’ speech. Less famous but certainly not less BEZIELEND was Bertha von Suttner. If it had not been for her, her peace campaigns in the nineteenth century and her revolutionary novel ‘Lay Down Your Arms’ (Die Waffen Nieder) which she wrote at age 46, in 1889, there would not have been a Peace Palace.

Want to know more about her. Go to her website.

Now let’s do our best and help the Peace Palace, which was once ‘BEZIELD’ by Bertha, to remain BEZIELEND and make the world a soulful peace planet before it’s too late.