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How the Dutch speak the language of COVID-19

Tired of being locked down in these COVID-19 times? Then you’re probably “coronamoe”. As any student of Dutch knows, the Dutchies love coining new words like these. Not a day passes by without a new word or phrase or saying having been created. Ruud Hisgen from Direct Dutch has collected some of these phrases and words that may lighten up and will certainly enrich your linguistic life in these “coronatijden” (the covidium or the era of COVID-19).

Corona or COVID-19?

Have you noticed that the Dutch hardly ever use the word “COVID-19” or “Covid” (officially written in Dutch as COVID-19 or covid-19)? In everyday speech, they prefer the word corona. “Corona”, being an abbreviation of “coronavirus”, is a terrible disease with a name that sounds magnificently. In Latin, “corona” means “ring”, but who is aware of this fact?

Anyway, the Dutch love to play around with this word. Besides “coronamoe” and “coronapandemie”, there is the sinister “coronacomplottheorie”, which refers to the widespread conspiracy plot that COVID-19 was engineered in order to direct the world to a day of judgement. Whatever. The word has a sadistic ring to it, so forget it.

However, on a happier and more realistic note, the Dutch did create the word “corona-app”, a clever contact app which warns people on their smartphones if they have been close to someone infected by COVID-19.

De anderhalvemetersamenleving

This must be one of the longest words to have entered the Dutch language this year. I predict that this word will be here to stay for a long time. It is a combination of “anderhalve meter” (meaning one and a half metres) and “samenleving” (literally ‘together living’ or society). No need for an explanation because this advice of keeping a distance has been imprinted into our brains for over nine months now.

Some people find this distance frustrating because they have “huidhonger” (literally “skin hunger”), a craving to touch a fellow human being, but others shout hallelujah, for they are absolved from having to shake hands or – even worse – from having to kiss each other three times at each encounter.

Anderhalvemetersamenleving” (excellent word to practise your Dutch pronunciation) is a new word synthesising closeness and distance in a perfect way.

Besmettelijk

Yes, definitely an important word to know. “Besmettelijk” (infectious or contagious) is derived from the verb “besmetten” which means “to infect” or “to contaminate”. Corona is een besmettelijk virus but a person can also be “besmettelijk”. The verb “besmetten” is derived from the word “smet” which means “stain” or “blot”.

Het mondkapje

In order to fight “besmetting” (infection), we should all wear a “mondkapje” (face mask). The word “mondkapje” is a combination of “mond” (mouth) and “kapje” (cap or hood). The English word “face mask” is more apt because a mask should not only cover the mouth but also the nose, in order to ward off Covid-19 viruses.

We live in an “anderhalvemetersamenleving”, but you could also claim that we’re rapidly approaching a complete “mondkapjessamenleving” (face mask society).

Nederland op slot

Over the last nine months, the front pages of the newspapers discussed developments in the covidium continuously. Very often the words “op slot” (locked down) dominated these pages. Frequently, the prime minister spoke to an audience of millions of anxious Dutch at a press conference on television. All households radiated fear of the words “op slot” or “lockdown” (the latter word has now entered the Dutch language).

Whereas other countries went into lockdown, Mark Rutte speaks of an “intelligente lockdown” (these words speak for themselves). What Rutte means by these words is a “targeted lockdown”; each citizen has the responsibility to stick to the rules that the government has dictated.

And how did Rutte and his cabinet decide on the rules? Well, they were suggested by the OMT (Outbreak Management Team) and the RIVM (Rijksinstituut voor volksgezondheid en milieu, or the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment).

BOA’s

The media have been riddled with abbreviations which make things confusing for many people. Have you heard of “BOA’s” who are there to remind people of their responsibilities with respect to the COVID-19 rules? No? Well, they are community service officers (CSO). The abbreviation BOA stands for “buitengewoon opsporingsambtenaar”, which means “special investigating officer”.

Het Irma-effect

If you’re interested in the Dutch language and all the words that were inspired by the covidum, please consult the online “coronawoordenboek”. One of the more interesting words you’ll find there is the “Irma-effect” (literally Irma- effect). Who is Irma? What is Irma?

Well, she is Ms Irma Sluis, and she is a talented sign language interpreter who can be seen during Mark Rutte’s famous press conferences. The way she interpreted the verb “hamsteren” (hoarding up, stocking up) was done in such a creative and dramatic way that the clip went viral.

Creative but careful

There are many other corona-related words, but for the moment I’ll call it a day. These corona-days have been tiresome, frightful and terrifying, but at least they inspire people to become creative, as can be witnessed in their use of language. So, be creative but please be careful, make your lockdown days useful by learning Dutch, wear your “mondkapje” and stick to the “anderhalvemeterafstandsregel” (1 1/2-meter rule).

written by Ruud Hisgen for IAMEXPAT