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Word of the Day: PRUIM, plum, prune

In the last posting I suggested that the sexiest of all fruits must be the peach, DE PERZIK. Many readers agreed. But Barbara asked: ‘what is the least sexy of all fruits?’ And she did not wait for an answer. ‘De PRUIM (plum)’, she said. She did not mean the fresh and sweet plum, no she meant the dried fruit which is called a ‘prune’ in English.


A fresh PRUIM is just as sexy as a PERZIK for my part. It is the GEDROOGDE PRUIM (dried prune) with its wrinkled skin which does not look sexy. These dried and wrinkled remnant of the fat fruit are usually tough and sour. No wonder that the Dutch call a sourpuss a ZUURPRUIM (literally a sour prune).

An old ‘out-of-use’ Dutch word for ‘prune’ is ‘pruimedant’ (from French ‘prune d’ente’ -> plums of grafted trees are usually of better quality). Nowadays we call these excellent natural laxatives ‘gedroogde pruimen’.

All European words for PRUIM derive from the Latin word ‘pruna’. In French it has become ‘la prune’. In German the ‘r’ has changed into an ‘l’ and become ‘die Pflaume’. In English the two names PLUM and PRUNE have survived side by side.


There is a very old children’s poem about plums. This poem, famous to this day, was written by Hieronymus van Alphen (born Gouda 1746, died The Hague 1803). Van Alphen was far ahead of his time in that he was of the opinion that children should be able to learn in a playful way. He published hi successful poems for children under the title ‘Kleine gedigten voor kinderen’ (small poems for children) at the end of the 18th century.

Many of his poems were translated into French, German, English and in Malay. Here is ‘The Plumtree’ which was published in 1778 for the first time. Underneath you’ll find the English 19th century translation.

De pruimeboom
Eene vertelling

Jantje zag eens pruimen hangen,
o! als eieren zo groot.
‘t Scheen, dat Jantje wou gaan plukken,
schoon zijn vader ‘t hem verbood.
Hier is, zei hij, noch mijn vader,
noch de tuinman, die het ziet:
Aan een boom, zo vol geladen,
mist men vijf zes pruimen niet.
Maar ik wil gehoorzaam wezen,
en niet plukken: ik loop heen.
Zou ik, om een hand vol pruimen,
ongehoorzaam wezen? Neen.
Voord ging Jantje: maar zijn vader,
die hem stil beluisterd had,
Kwam hem in het loopen tegen
voor aan op het middelpad.
Kom mijn Jantje, zei de vader,
kom mijn kleine hartedief!
Nu zal ik u pruimen plukken;
nu heeft vader Jantje lief.
Daar op ging Papa aan ‘t schudden,
Jantje raapte schielijk op;
Jantje kreeg zijn hoed vol pruimen,
en liep heen op een galop.

The plumtree
A story
(translation by F.J. Millard)

Johnny saw some fine plums hanging,
Oh! like eggs, so very large;
Johnny seemed about to pluck them,
Though against his father’s charge.
Here is not, said he, my father,
Nor the gard’ner near the tree,
From those boughs so richly laden,
Five or six plums – who can see?
But I wish to be obedient,
I’ll not pluck them; off I go.
Should I for a trifling handful
Disobedient be? Oh no.
Off went Johnny; but his father,
Who had overheard his talk,
Just then forward stepped to meet him,
In the garden middle-walk.
Come, my Johnny, said his father,
Come, my little darling boy,
Now for you some plums I’ll gather,
Now you are your father’s joy.
Then Pa gave the tree a shaking;
Johnny stooped with laughing face,
Johnny filled his hat quite brimful,
Off then galloped in a race.

For the French and German translations follow this link.