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Word of the day: uitverkoop (sale)

Dutch shops and department stores seem to think that the Dutch language is on the way out. Maybe shopkeepers think that our country was taken over by people whose native language isn’t Dutch but English. Everywhere you see ‘Sale’ instead of the Dutch words OPRUIMING or UITVERKOOP.

uitverkoopYesterday I was walking through the Dutch shopping mall ‘In de Bogaard’ in Rijswijk. Did you know that this mall is one of the oldest covered shopping centres in the Netherlands? It was built fifty years ago, in 1963.

‘Bogaard’ is an old Dutch word for ‘boomgaard’ which means ‘orchard’. Now you probably assume that the mall was romantically situated on the site of an old orchard. Wrong. The name is a tribute to the then mayor of Rijswijk. His name was Archibald Bogaardt. Realising the origin of the name, I find it a bit obscene now.

So ‘In de Bogaard’ has a vanity name not unlike ‘Centre Pompidou’. All rulers sneakily dream of large stony monuments with their name on it. So I wonder what name the proposed Hague Cultuurforum will have in 2018. Marnix Norder Center or Centre Marjolein de Jong? Will it be named after these two aldermen who have been pushing it so energetically?

Anyway, when I was in ‘In de Bogaard’, I was trying to find a shop with the sign UITVERKOOP or OPRUIMING. Only the Swiss clothing store Charles Vögele had a few measly small signs with ‘totaaluitverkoop’ (clearance sale). The shop, where my daughter used to work as a sales assistant until two years ago, looked shabby and miserable. When I looked again, I saw it was about to close down for good. The shop was almost completely empty.

All the other shops showed large signs of ‘sale’. Somehow it made me feel very sad to see that most Dutch shops don’t bother to use the old familiar Dutch phrases anymore. What does this development mean? Is the word ‘sale’ more seductive than UITVERKOOP? Or are the old words too clumsy because of their length? OPRUIMING has nine letters and UITVERKOOP ten letters while ‘sale’ is a catchy four-letter word like ‘love’. You can fit three ‘sales’ in one UITVERKOOP.

I personally prefer the word ‘UITVERKOOP’ because I love all words that have KOOP in it. KOOP is a wonderfully ancient word.

KOOP (purchase) is related to the verb KOPEN (buy). ‘To sell’ ofcourse is VERKOPEN. Every student of Dutch is quicky aware of the word GOEDKOOP (cheap), the opposite of DUUR (dear, expensive).

‘Cheap’ sounds cheap but GOEDKOOP still has a noble ring to it, even though it means ‘not expensive’. The Dutch have a lovely saying: ‘goedkoop is duurkoop en duurkoop is goedkoop’. It means: ‘if you buy cheaply you’ll end up paying for it because it won’t last, and if you buy dearly you’ll possess something that is of good quality which will endure.’ The phrase ‘goedkoop is duurkoop’ is short for something that takes a lot words in other languages.

If you look at the word KOOP the budding etymologist in you will see a similarity with ‘cheap’. Many Dutch words starting with ‘k’ have ‘ch’ in English. Just think of ‘church’ (kerk) or ‘cheese’ (kaas) or ‘chance’ (kans) etc. In Old English ‘ceap’ just meant a ‘purchase’ because it was derived from the verb ‘ceapian’ (trade) which was borrowed from Latin ‘caupo’ (tradesman).

‘Cheap’ also meant the place of trade, the market. This word has survived in several English names as Cheapside and Chipping Sodbury. The meaning ‘cheap’ (inexpensive) arose in the Middle Ages in phrases like ‘god chep’ which was a translation of French ‘(à) bon marché’. German ‘billig’ (cheap) originally meant ‘fair’ or ‘just’. The Dutch stil use the word ‘billijk’ for ‘fair’.

‘Billig’, ‘bon marché’, ‘god chep’, GOEDKOOP. GOEDKOOP is originally ‘een goede koop’ (a good purchase). In the Middle Ages it was a favourable word, but somewhere somehow it evolved an unfavourable meaning. If we call a person or object GOEDKOOP (cheap), it surely is no recommendation.

In my opinion the word ‘sale’ on shops sounds GOEDKOOP (cheap). Let’s return to the old Dutch words before we have made a GOEDKOPE UITVERKOOP of our culture.