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Word of the day: brak (brackish, worse for wear)

So it’s the morning after the last night of the previous year and we’re feeling a bit worse for wear. BRAK is the word the Dutch use for this feeling. ‘Ik voel me brak’, after all the ‘oliebollen’, ‘appelflappen’ and glasses of champagne. O zo BRAK.

brakThe Hague and the rest of the country is also feeling BRAK.
A middle-aged man from Medemblik died while lighting fireworks.
Eight Dutch people lost sight in an eye.
Sixty-nine cars around The Hague went up in flames.
It rained at midnight but what fun we had!

And now we’re feeling BRAK. So what do thousands of BRAK Dutchies do? They go to the beach, take off their clothes, collect their free bonnets sponsored by the famous Dutch sausage and soup factory and dive into the sea. And then they’ll all run back out of the cold sea and eat a free cup of erwtensoep (peasoup) sponsored by the famous Dutch sausage and soup factory. For an impression see last year’s report.

The word BRAK is the apt Word of the Day for this New Year’s Day. The original meaning of BRAK is ‘salty’, ‘briny’, ‘brackish’. Samuel Johnson in his 1755 Dictionary described ‘brackish’ as follows: ‘salt; somewhat salt; it is used particularly of the water of the sea’. And he correctly identifies the word as originally Dutch.

Etymologist Nicoline van der Sijs in her 2001 Chronological Dictionary states that the word was first written down in Dutch in 1477. BRAK’s synonym is ‘zilt’ and ‘zilt’ is the taste of something somewhere between salty and not so very salty. Tears are said to be ‘zilt’ and ‘het zilte nat’ is a poetic phrase referring to the salty sea. ZILT has an agreeable ring to it whereas BRAK sounds displeasing and rough to my ears.

In the Middle Ages BRAK also meant ‘worthless’, ‘no good’ or ‘unfit’. Fields and fresh water courses polluted by seawater very often used to go BRAK, which meant that they were ruined for agricultural use. To this day seepage of salt water (KWEL) is a major threat to Dutch polders. KWELLEN has two meanings: ‘to seep’ and ‘to haunt’ or ‘to torment’. ‘Kwel kwelt de Nederlanders’ (Salt water seepage haunts the Dutch people).

So when the Dutch are feeling BRAK, they fancy that they are being tormented (GEKWELD) and that their lives have been spoilt by too much drink, too much food and too many depressing thoughts.

BRAK echoes the verb BREKEN (brak, gebroken, break). The year was broken off and a new dawn is breaking. We need one day to come to terms with this broken feeling. Some of us make themselves scarce, others dive into serial family visits. The brave plunge massively into briny waters, because they think that brackish feelings can be cured by cold brackish water. Whatever choice we make, tomorrow we’ll all be HEEL (whole) again.

Have a healthy and BRAKLOOS 2014!

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