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Word of the Day: lof (praise)

‘Uitbundige’ LOF (lavish praise) for all you Facebook friends for enduring my five L*F words last week. In this seemingly arbitrary series we shied away from spineless LAF to gutsy LEF, while hugging LIEF and cherishing LIJF. Today we finally arrive at much appreciated LOF. Have these words any common features? LAF (cowardly), LIEF (sweet), LIJF (body) and LOF (praise) are ancient Germanic words while LEF (courage) is the only outsider because of its Hebrew origins. LEF and LAF turned out to be absolute opposites, whereas LIEF, LIJF and LOF proved to be good friends powered by the uplifting energy of life and love.

lof

If you love someone, praise (LOVEN) the dear one, body and soul! LOVEN derives from the same Germanic root as the word LIEF, as testified by modern English ‘love’. Dutch LOF and English ‘love’ are ancient siblings in form and sound. In Old English ‘lof’ (praise) went hand in hand with the verb ‘lofian’.


The medieval Dutch word for ‘praise’ is ‘lovetuten’ which is a combination of LOF and TUTEN (meaning ‘tooting’, ‘bellowing’). Many people today think that the word LOFTUITING was derived from the noun ‘uiting’ (expression, utterance). Wrong! It comes from the ‘tuiting’ (tooting) of ‘LOF’ (praise). Related expressions, still very much in use, are ‘zijn eigen loftrompet steken (toot one’s own trumpet or horn) and ‘de loftrompet over iemand steken’ (sing someone’s praises). Someone who passed his exams with distinction and got a first, ‘is geslaagd met LOF’ (in Latin: ‘cum laude’).

LOF DER ZOTHEID, PRAISE OF FOLLY

The book written by a Dutchman that has received the highest international praise ever, is probably Erasmus’ ‘In Praise of Folly’ (Dutch title: ‘Lof der Zotheid’, Greek title: ‘Morias Enkomion’ (Μωρίας Εγκώμιον), Latin: ‘Stultitiae Laus’). Even pope Leo X thought it was funny. This 502 year-old booklet has not lost any of its relevance today. If you read a modern translation and there are many available in Dutch and English, you’ll see how fresh and funny it still is.

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) was a Dutch humanist, a priest, a teacher and a scholar who was a champion of religious toleration. Though Erasmus claimed that he was from Rotterdam (and in return Rotterdam has claimed him as its ‘patron humanist’), he only lived there for four years. His father was a Catholic priest in Gouda and his mother probably his housekeeper. His parents never married and died early from the plague in 1483. Small wonder that Erasmus was so secretive about his unorthodox origins.

Erasmus became a famous European scholar, travelling all over the place. He wrote ‘Lof der zotheid’ in Latin in 1509 after a visit to his best friend Thomas More (to whom the book was dedicated) in England. Erasmus had it printed in 1511 for the first time.

In ‘Lof der Zotheid’ the main character Folly is some kind of goddess who, praising madness and herself, narrates the story. Folly argues that earthy existence would be intolerable and life dull without foolishness, which is why she claims that she is the most important goddess on earth.

In Folly’s defence of foolishness Erasmus pokes fun at the two kinds of inhabitants of his fatherland: the Brabanders and the Hollanders and in doing so the humanist gives a funny outline of the national character of the Netherlands (which was not yet a nation at the time).

Reading this satirical analysis in 2013 you don’t believe your eyes, because it is as if nothing has changed in the evolution of stereotypes over 500 years. With respect to the Brabanders Folly quotes the proverb: ‘Hoe ouder de Brabander, hoe zotter.’ (The older a Brabander gets, the more foolish he is). Life, according to Folly, is only tolerable when Foolishness can prolong the delights of Youth and keep the evils of Old Age at bay. Most people, however, get wiser with age and therefore suffer more, but the Brabanders have always been jolly, jovial and ‘gezellig’ and so benefit from foolishness.

The Hollanders also benefit from Foolishness but in a different way. Erasmus, speaking through Folly’s mouth, writes: ‘To these Brabanders are closely related my friends the Hollanders: mine I may well call them, for they stick so close and lovingly to me, that they are styled fools to a proverb, and yet take pride in their nickname.’ The proverb that Folly refers to is: ‘Hoe ouder de Hollander, hoe botter’ (The older a Dutchman gets, the more thick-headed he is).

Over the years I have heard many expats characterize the Brabanders as jovial and the Hollanders as ‘blunt’, ‘’dull-witted’ and ‘lacking in culture’. And I can understand these stereotypes. But are they true? What do you think? Do you agree with Folly and her stereotypes or is there another way of seeing the Hollanders and the Brabanders?

An interesting topic for discussion over dinner at ‘De Lof der Zotheid’ in Voorburg or in Benoordenhout.

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