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Word of the day: gisteren (yesterday)

Yesterday was a rainy day. Today will be another rainy yesterday tomorrow. Yesterday is GISTEREN (German: ‘gestern’). GISTEREN is a word full of ‘weemoed’ (nostalgia). The longer I live, the more yesterdays I collect.


Someone, someday, a long, long time ago must have invented a primeval form of GISTEREN, a proto Indo-European form with ’ghes’ in it. In Latin this form turned into ‘hesternus’, in Greek Grieks ‘khthés’ and in Sanskrit ‘hya’.

Gothic ‘gistradagis’ sounds like yesterday but referred to ‘tomorrow’. Originally ‘yester-day’ meant ‘the other day’. This ‘other day’ could either be the day before or the day to come. Compare this word to Dutch ‘morgen’ which still carries this double meaning: this morning (ochtend) or tomorrow (morgen).

Old English ‘giestrandæg’ is a combination of ‘yester’ and ‘day’. In Middle Dutch we lost the ‘dag’ and are left with a mere ‘gister’ or ‘gisteren’.

GISTEREN is a versatile word that can be combined with parts of the day: ‘gistermorgen’, ‘gistermiddag’, ‘gisteravond’ and ‘gisternacht’. The day before yesterday is: ‘eergisteren’ and this too can combined with the parts of the day. But this is as far as the Dutch will go. ‘Yesteryear’ ( a coinage by the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1870) is not ‘gisterjaar’. Pity.

‘Yesterday’ was my mother’s favourite Beatles song. O how she loved to chant this song while playing the piano. And O how I hated it. My mother died almost fourteen years ago and somehow this hatred for the song has vanished.

Maybe I was too young to appreciate ‘Yesterday’ in 1965. When the Paul McCartney song came out, I was only twelve and did not have many yesterdays to boast about. I had not yet known love as ‘an easy game to play’, nor had I experienced love as the difficult job which could cause you to ‘need a place to hide away’.

If I understand the lyrics correctly, McCartney states that because of love terrible things are happening in the hellish here, now and later. So he thinks it better to believe in the paradise of yesterday. What was it the singer/songwriter said that made his girlie desert him forever?

‘Why she had to go I don’t know, she wouldn’t say
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.’

I, for one, believe he must have looked the girl in the eye and said: ‘I love you’. By making this heartfelt confession, he unwittingly pointed to a long and lasting future that the young girl was not yet ready for. There is so much serious ‘tomorrow’ in ‘I love you’. When the Dutch say ‘ik hou van jou’, the words imply a lot of possessiveness. Serious ‘love’ holds the key to wedlock and a lifelong time when the easy games of love can no longer be played. It is enough to make any young woman run away in shock.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you more about yesterday, because Robyn just warned me, that my postings are sprawling in all directions again.