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Word of the Day: dom (stupid, silly)

DOM is one of the oldest words in the Dutch language. And it must have been one of the first words that our future queen Máxima learned.


When the couple were interviewed shortly after the Queen’s announcement of their engagement in 2001 (yes, that long ago!), Willem-Alexander admitted that he had given a rash and stupid reaction to an allegation concerning the reputation of his Argentinian (then future) father in law. He blushed, smiled and turned to Máxima and said: ‘Dat was stom, hè?’ (That was stupid, wasn’t it?). And she nodded and smiled back saying: ‘Je was een beetje dom, je was een beetje dom…’ (You were a little foolish…).

Note that Willem-Alexander said STOM and Máxima DOM. What is the difference between STOM and DOM? I would say that it is a matter of degree. STOM to me sounds more serious than DOM. DOM has overtones of ‘naïveté’, ‘foolishness’, ‘silliness’ ‘showing little sense’, while STOM has a more insulting ring to it: ‘really stupid’, ‘thickheaded’, ‘thick as a brick’, ‘obtuse’.

So when Máxima answered her fiancé, she lovingly toned his blunder down by using DOM instead of STOM.

In doing so, Máxima not only showed a great sensitivity to the Dutch language, she also added a new expression to the rich Dutch wordhoard. It is not unusual to hear someone say with a grin: ‘Je was een beetje dom…’ Or even: ‘Ik was een beetje dom…’ Meaning that it was not a very sensible thing to do but, what the hell, we all make mistakes, we’re all human.

The words DOM and ‘dumb’ have an obvious relationship. The Oxford English Dictionary states that Old English ‘dumb’ only had the sense of ‘mute’ or ‘speechless’ and that it shared this sense with other Germanic words meaning ‘stupid’ or ‘deaf’. This suggests that the original meaning of ‘dumb’ and DOM must have been ‘not understanding’.

DOM in Dutch lost the meaning of muteness and now exclusively means ‘silly’ or ‘stupid’. EEN DOMME GANS is a silly goose. STOM, however, can still be used for ‘speechlessness’. EEN STOMME FILM is not a stupid or silly film, but a silent film. And someone who is unable to speak is STOM (mute).

In Utrecht the cathedral is called DOM. This is not a stupid church but the bishop’s chair. This word DOM was derived from Latin ‘domus’ meaning house. So the DOM in Utrecht is God’s house.

There are many expressions with DOM or STOM in Dutch. If you wish to insult someone, call him or her: DOMKOP, or STOMMELING. Someone who is as drunk as a skunk is STOMDRONKEN. Someone who is as stupid as an ox (why an ox? It’s an insult to the ox!) is OLIEDOM. Can you guess why the Dutch compare ignorance to oil?

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