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Word of the day: paard (horse)

Kung Hei Fat Choy! Gong Xi Fa Cai! Happy Chinese New Year! Gelukkig Chinees Nieuwjaar! The Year of the Snake has ended and the Year of the Horse has begun. The fifteen-day celebration of Chinese New Year started on Friday 31 January, with the first new moon of the calendar year.

paardThe Chinese have a zodiac which comprises a twelve-year cycle with the names of animals: rat (RAT), ox (OS), tiger (TIJGER), rabbit (KONIJN), dragon (DRAAK), snake (SLANG), horse (PAARD), goat (GEIT), monkey (AAP), rooster (HAAN), dog (HOND) and pig (VARKEN).

If you were born in the Year of the Horse (1930-31/1942-43/1954-55/1966-67/1978-79/1990-91/2002-03) your character is said to be like the horse: lively and active. A horse is a herd animal, so you probably love being among people. Other characteristics are: independent, straightforward, witty, communicative and you have a positive attitude towards life.

If you are a Horse you probably like Tigers, Goats and Dogs. You’ll probably hate me because I am a Snake (1953). Years of the Horse are associated with warfare. The battle of Dien Bien Phu, in which the Vietnamese defeated France, occurred in 1954 and in 1894 the first Sino-Japanese war started. Hopefully 2014 will not be another year of fierce battle.

‘War Horse’, the British theatre play with animated horses from a South African puppet company, will premiere in Amsterdam in June 2014. ‘War Horse’ is based on the children’s novel by the English author Michael Morpurgo (1945) from 1985. It is not just about a horse and his friend, it is also the story of the men who fought and died in the Great War of 1914-1918.

What is a horse? Samuel Johnson defines the animal functionally in the first English dictionary from 1755: ‘Horse, a neighing quadruped, used in war, and draught and carriage.’ The Oxford English Dictionary says: ‘A solid-hoofed perissodactyl quadruped (Equus caballus), having a flowing mane and tail, whose voice is a neigh. It is well known in the domestic state as a beast of burden and draught, and esp. as used for riding upon.’

English ‘Horse’ and Dutch ‘ROS’ (steed, mount) are clearly related. ROS (a ‘het-woord’) is still used for saddle horses. Sometimes I refer to my noble bicycle as ‘het stalen ros’, but not very often, because it makes me sound very old-fashioned.

The common Dutch word for ‘horse’ is PAARD (a ‘het-woord’). Horses neigh and PAARDEN ‘hinneken’. Both verbs are imitations of the sounds of the animal. In Old English the verb was ‘hnægan’ and in Middle Dutch ‘hinnen’. The latter verb can still be recognized in English ‘whinny’.

PAARD sounds very Germanic but it was derived from medieval latin ‘paraveredus’ or ‘parafredus’ (a horse that could be exchanged for another horse on long distances and was used for mail). There is so much to be said about PAARDEN that I’ll continue this subject tomorrow.

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