A VRIENDIN can be someone’s friend (friend) or someone’s partner (girlfriend). So how does a Dutchman distinguish between his lover and a friend who happens to be female?
Right, imagine you’re at this wild Dutch party (yes they do exist!) and you’re fighting your way through the mob to the bar where the beers are. Suddenly you stand eye to eye with a fierce looking but vague acquaintance of the male sex who is accompanied by a stunning female. There’s no escape. Politeness is called for and you’re in for a boring introduction game. Suppose this person says:
1. Hallo! Ik ben Rienk en dit is mijn vriendin Nicoline.
2. Hallo! Ik ben Rienk en dit is Nicoline, een vriendin van mij.
In the first case you may assume that Nicoline is his steady girlfriend, so hands off! When Rienk says in the second option that ‘Nicoline [is] een vriendin van mij’ she is one of his many friends and therewith he indicates that you’re free to start flirting.
I admit, it is quite confusing. Let’s try to make sense of the words VRIEND, VRIENDIN and KENNIS.
The word VRIEND and ‘friend’ and German ‘Freund’ are clearly related. Their relationship goes back to the early Middle Ages when the word ‘friend’ was spelled differently. In Old English it used to spelled as ‘frīond’ or ‘frēond’ and in Old Dutch it was ‘friunt’. It is exhilarating to see that the core of the word VRIEND is ‘free’. In medieval Dutchland ‘friunt’ could have the meaning of ‘friend’ and ‘lover’ and ‘to make love’ in Dutch is the verb ‘vrijen’.
Great to see that the word for the person with whom one has a close and informal relationship of mutual trust and intimacy is based on ‘freedom’. A real friend will make you feel free. True friendship knows neither fetters nor impediments. It’s wonderful that the contemporary word VRIEND still has the double meaning: ‘mate’ and ‘lover’.
Now imagine Nicoline introducing herself to you. When she says:
‘Hallo! Ik ben Nicoline en dit is mijn vriend Rienk’,
you know that the two are in a relationship. However, when she says:
‘Hallo! Ik ben Nicoline en dit is Rienk, een vriend van mij’,
the two of them are not amorously involved but may be the best of friends.
The noun KENNIS (acquaintance) was derived from the verb KENNEN, to know. So a KENNIS is someone you ‘know’, and not someone with whom you have a relationship of trust and intimacy. Facebook VRIENDEN should really be called ‘Facebook KENNISSEN’, but I know, I know, this has a roundabout ring, especially in English: ‘Facebook acquaintances’.
And… can you imagine that you’ll ever ‘unacquaintance’ someone? No, it sounds ridiculous, yet it is more true than ‘unfriending’ someone. ‘Unfriend’ in Dutch by the way is ‘ontvrienden’, a nasty thing to do.
To end on a positive note, what is the name of the best of all your best friends? Right, a ‘bosom friend’. And what is the Dutch translation of ‘bosom friend’? The answer is ‘boezemvriend’ or ‘boezemvriendin’. And the fashionable word is ‘soul mate’. A ‘soulmate’ can be ‘een vriend’ or ‘een vriendin’. Or it can be your lover, ‘je vriend’ or ‘je vriendin’.