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

Word of the day: eigenwijs (precocious, cocksure)

‘Daar woont de prinses!’ (That’s where the princess lives!) the girl says to her friends and points to her supposed dwelling. They all look in the direction. All? No not all of them. One girl who’s sitting on the ground does not move an inch. Is she angry? Does she feel left out? I have no idea. ‘De prinses, daar!’ Her command has such a deep-down conviction that I almost believe her.


EIGENWIJS is one of those words that are very difficult to translate. According to Nicoline van der Sijs and her chronological dictionary it was first written down in the second half of the 15th Century. It is a combination of the two words ‘eigen’ (own) and ‘wijs’ (manner). It used to mean ‘one’s own manner’. This ‘wijs’ is not the ‘wijs’ that is part of ‘wijsheid’ (wisdom). No it’s the ‘wijs’ of ‘wijze’ (manner). It’s related to the verb ‘wijzen’ which means ‘to point’.

EIGENWIJS means very much convinced of one’s own knowledge and is related to other Dutch words like: ‘eigengereid’ (headstrong), ‘eigenwillig’ (self-willed), ‘eigenzinnig’ (obstinate), ‘gelijkhebberig’ (determined to be right), ‘betweterig’ (clever), ‘hardleers’ and ‘koppig’ (stubborn). As far as I know, there is not one exact English or German (rechthaberisch, eigensinnig) equivalent.

Calling a child EIGENWIJS comes close to English ‘precocious’. In this sense the word means ‘vroeg wijs’ and in this sense ‘wijs’ is related to ‘wise’. The child then has a wisdom which is early for its age. The German word is ‘naseweis’ (why? Is it the Dutch word ‘wijsneuzig’ and what has a wise nose got to do with being precocious?).

I have no idea what game these children are playing. Their imaginary world is so far removed from mine. It is a world of their own.

Odd/When we call a child ‘eigenwijs’, we automatically smile and welcome its attitude. EIGENWIJS is so much different when it refers to an adult. The meaning veers round to negativity. All kinds of words come to mind: cocksure, conceited, pigheaded, priggish, superior, smart alec or smart-ass, know-all, stubborn, obstinate, unamenable, wayward… No, being called EIGENWIJS is not something to be proud of when you’re an adult.