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Word of the day: doodgaan (die)

So many words for dying. OVERLIJDEN literally means ‘to pass over’ and has nothing to do with suffering (‘lijden’). STERVEN is one of the oldest Dutch words and is derived from a long forgotten word meaning ‘stiffen’ or ‘grow rigid’.

doodgaanIt will not come as a surprise that English ‘starve’ and Dutch STERVEN are closely related and that the two words refer to dying. Old English ‘steorfan’ with its past tense ‘stearf’ and past participle ‘storfen’ is close to Dutch STERVEN and its ‘stierf’ and ‘gestorven’.

English ’starve’ in the 14th century came to mean ‘die of cold’ and in the 16th century ‘to kill with hunger’ (Dutch: verhongeren) and later ‘to die of hunger’. ‘Ik ga dood van de honger’ (I’m starving) is an expression used by people who look forward to their lunch.

The shape of the word DOOD is a meaningful miniature. It is a palindrome, In whichever direction you read it, the meaning remains the same. The two ‘o’s in it sound like a long sorrowful lament. And an actor can make it sound as if it is one’s final breath.

The dictionary translates ‘morsdood’ ‘as dead as a doornail. ‘Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail’ in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’.

‘Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile…’

Mind, ‘morsdood’ sounds like a pleonasm (white as snow), and you probably think it is related to Latin ‘mors’ (meaning ‘dead’) but how wrong you are… According to etymologists ‘mors’ originally meant ‘suddenly’ in Dutch and German. So ‘morsdood’ really means a sudden death, rather than ‘dead as a doornail’. Its translation should really be ‘dood als een pier’ (dead as a worm hanging as bait on a hook at the end of fishing rod)

But where does the word DOOD come from, aye that’s the question. Here’s the answer. It comes from the early Germanic word ‘dawjan’ (die). This verb evolved into the Middle Dutch verb ‘doeyen’ which you pronounce as ‘dooien’ and which means ‘to languish’ or ‘to pine away. This word has disappeared from the Dutch language and was replaced by ‘wegkwijnen’.

But wait a moment, you say, isn’t that verb ‘dooien’ the same verb that the Dutch use for ‘thaw’? No, modern ‘dooien’ comes from Middle Dutch ‘doien’ meaning ‘to melt’.

DOODGAAN, STERVEN, OVERLIJDEN, three verbs that point to nothingness but reflect three different points of view. OVERLIJDEN implies an irreversible departure and a farewell. STERVEN conveys the transformation of a warm, agile living organism to a stiff doornailish kind of thing. And DOODGAAN echoes a cry of anguish by a pining creature.

However, when we’re dead, we’re gone and that’s the way of all flesh. Those who stay behind, are left with the emotions of loss and unanswered questions.

Don’t pine, live on. Listen to ‘The Unanswered Question’ by Charles Ives and meditate on the wisest wisdom ever devised… by the Greek Epicurus (341–270 BC)

‘De dood is niets dat ons aangaat. Immers wat ontbonden is, heeft geen gevoel meer, en wat geen gevoel heeft is niet iets dat ons aangaat.’ (Over de natuur en het geluk, vertaling: Keimpe Algra), Historische Uitgeverij, 1998)

Death is nothing to us. What has been dissolved, has no feeling anymore, and what has no feeling, should not concern us. In death there is no pain.