Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië 275, The Hague, The Netherlands +31(0)70 365 46 77

Word of the day: ontboezeming (unburdening)

Charlotte suggested this word the other day. And to be honest, I had not got a clue how to deal with it. So I spent quite some time pondering what to do with this word. I also had no idea what kind of photo to take. A picture of a bared ‘bosom’ would have banned my posting by the prudish minds who expurgate the medium.


Last Friday I was roaming around Amsterdam after having taught creative writing at the Reinwardt Academy. On my way back to The Hague I always treat myself to a visit to Atheneum Bookshop. I got off the tram and turned into the narrow street that leads to the book market and the bookshop and there it was: Christine le Duc, the erotic shop.

Now you’ll probably expect me to confess to all kinds of erotic peccaddilloes linked to this erotic shop. But no, there will not be such unburdening or as it is called in Dutch ONTBOEZEMING.

The verb ONTBOEZEMEN consists of ‘ont’ (un) and ‘boezem’ (bosom). The prefix ‘ont’ indicates a freeing or releasing from something. The noun ‘boezem’ is an old Germanic word which existed as bósm in Old English and Old Frisian. Etymologists have no idea what the word originally meant. Did the word indicate the swellings on the chest or the space between the arms?

We all know the feeling that there is something you need to confess but are too embarrassed about. This feeling weighs heavily on your chest. Why your chest? Probably because it is close to your heart.

Christine le Duc stirred up all kinds of memories, but none of them were embarrassing. Am I being obscure? Yes, I am. So I’ll enlighten you.

Before Direct Dutch moved to the Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië in 2002, the institute was situated on the corner of the Piet Heinplein and the Elandstraat in the centre of The Hague. It was a necessary move because we had outgrown the stately premises. For ten wonderful years we shared the Art Deco building with, yes you guessed right, Christine le Duc.

The door on the left gave entrance to the naughty sweets of the erotic shop and the door on the right opened up to serious Direct Dutch lessons and workshops.

My sudden encounter with the Amsterdam branch of Miss le Duc brought back memories of our period above the shop. In our attic we had an old style bar where we celebrated diploma presentations and organised talks and sometimes parties. My office looked out on the front of another monument of illicit sin: Mayfair in the Eland Straat.

Strange, in all those years nobody complained that our institute was sandwiched between two institutions that thrived on human desires and lust. When people asked me where Direct Dutch was located I always said: ‘Aan het Piet Heinplein, naast de bloemenzaak’ (On the Piet Heinplein next to the flowershop). Very often I saw the questioner reflect for a few seconds after which a smile could not be checked when this person realized what kind of shop there was on the other side of the flowershop.

By the way, our downstairs neighbours were extremely friendly and helpful. Every December when Direct Dutch celebrated Sinterklaas, they allowed me to change my Saint’s outfit in a small storage room at the back of the shop. Lechery and sanctity were scrambling for my attention. There I was in my crimson gown putting on my white wig and mitre trying to unglue my eyes from hundreds of pictures of smooth bare bodies often with lavish bosoms.

Remember, the word ‘bosom’ in Dutch is BOEZEM. So if you have to get something off your chest, take it off your bosom as the Dutch say: ONTBOEZEM (unburden yourself)!