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Word of the day: griep (flu)

It’s that time of year again. Your friend phones up. He can’t come for dinner: ‘A touch of the flu.’ (Sorry, een GRIEPJE). He is sure he has the flu (GRIEP). He feels tired (MOE). He has a fever (KOORTS, see previous posting). He coughs (HIJ HOEST). He has a sore throat (KEELPIJN), a runny nose (LOOPNEUS) and when he wants to sleep a stuffy nose (VERSTOPTE NEUS). His entire body aches (LICHAAM DOET PIJN) and he has a headache (HOOFDPIJN). Not to mention the chills (RILLINGEN).

He promises that he’ll drink his hot grog, swallow his vitamin c tablets and go to bed. In a couple of days he’ll be out of the wood (BOVEN JAN).

Usually we don’t realize how fortunate we are to live at this juncture of time when a flu is just a flu and not much more than an inconvenience. When things really get worse, there is always a doctor to turn to.

How different it was even in the recent past and how bleak the Middle Ages must have been when you fell ill. In those days KOORTS (fever) was considered a dangerous illness and not a symptom of disease. We now know what the causes are of illnesses. In those days, when angels and devils were near tangible beings and all you could hope for were miracles, many diseases were thought to be caused by the stars. No, I should say: influenced by the stars.

Both the English word ‘influence’ or the Dutch word INVLOED were derived from the Latin astrological term ‘influentem’ (flowing in). Astrologers believed that the stars were streaming ethereal power to earth. Powers which influenced the character or destiny of men and could cause illnesses.

The Italian word ‘influenza’ (which was shortened to ‘flu’ in the 19th century) originally means an ‘influence’ or ‘visitation’ (in Dutch bezoeking) of a stream coming from the stars. In Italy the word was used for all kinds of illnesses like ‘influenza di febbre scarlatina’ (scarlet fever, ROODVONK).

‘Influenza’ pandemics have been around for a very long time. We now know that the stars have no influence on the disease whatsoever. Influenza is transmitted from infected mammals through the air by coughs or sneezes, or by way of transmitted saliva, nasal secretions, feces and blood. The disease has been our problem since the beginning of agriculture and husbandry some ten millenniums ago.

Influenza pandemics (of which the one at the end of the First World War was the most disastrous, killing between 20 and 40 million people worldwide) have occurred time and time again.

The Dutch know the word ‘influenza’ but they prefer to speak of the GRIEP. It was borrowed from French ‘grippe’ but let’s not forget that French ‘grippe’ was in its turn derived from Germanic ‘gripanan’ (to grasp or to grip). So Dutch GRIJPEN (grip), GRIEP (flu) and GRAP (joke, see earlier posting) are all one family. GRIEP being the long lost Prodigal Son. GRIEP, however, is anything but a GRAP.

GRIEPEN is a verb which stems from the disease but has nothing to do with the disease anymore. It means ‘grumble’, ‘gripe’, ‘whine’ and ‘moan’ and is a synonym of KANKEREN which is a verb derived from another terrible disease, yes ‘cancer’. But we’ll leave that word for a later posting.