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Word of the day: sterven (die)

I am a lucky man. Most men and women in my life have gone and yet they are still very much alive. Every time I open one of my thousands of books, a friend speaks to me. Many of them passed on before I was even born, but no matter, whenever I need a word of wisdom, advice, humour or comfort, they will speak to me. I am so lucky to have the words and thoughts of thousands of invisible friends.

stervenI am also physically close to thousands of dead people whose identities will forever remain hidden. When I wake up and have my breakfast, I look out of my window and see the ancient churchyard with its familiar graves. The people, that were buried there, died long ago. Many of them were priests. ‘Zij zijn lang geleden gestorven’. ‘Zij zijn lang geleden overleden.’ ‘Zij zijn lang geleden doodgegaan.’

STERVEN, OVERLIJDEN, DOODGAAN… So many words for dying. John Cleese in Monty Python’s hilarious parrot sketch, lists a lot of English synonyms for dying:

‘[This parrot]’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!’

If you want to compose your own Dutch parrot sketch, here are some synonyms for STERVEN (die):

inslapen (fall asleep = pass on)
ontslapen (pass away)
de eeuwigheid ingaan (go into eternity)
de geest geven (give up the ghost),
de grote reis aanvaarden (make the last journey)
de kraaienmars blazen (sound the crow’s march = kick the bucket)
de weg van alle vlees gaan (go the way of all flesh)
het hoekje omgaan (turn the corner = snuff it)
het leven laten (lay down one’s life)
het moede hoofd neerleggen (lay down one’s weary head)
het tijdelijke met het eeuwige verwisselen (exchange the temporary for the eternal = go to glory)
zijn laatste adem uitblazen (breathe one’s last)
voor Gods rechterstoel verschijnen (appear before God’s judgement seat)

We love words for death. And every day we coin new words or expressions. We love death but at the same time we are so afraid of the big unknown. During my cycle rides in The Hague and surroundings I encounter many temporary memorials for people who must have met their deaths there. They consist of plastic flowers, some dirty cuddly toys, several cards with heartrending laments, a name and usually a faded photo. Some of these memorials look neglected and have been there for eight of nine years and you cannot help but wonder how many people still find comfort in them.

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