All things come to a beginning

Friday, June 23, 2006


There's a word in Dutch, 'verliefd', that I've never been able to translate into English. It is a state of being that does not carry as much weight as 'in love' and yet is less throwaway than 'have a crush on' or 'have a thing for'. It can be simultaneously extremely tender, like when it's said of an 80-year old couple spotted holding hands. But it can also be very light and fleeting, like when it's said of two inseperable 4-year olds who pick each other flowers. You could use it in a sentence referring to someone else, or to yourself (though rarely without a hint of embarrassment).

The philologist in me wants to look at the different components of the word to try and figure it out. 'Lief' is an adjective meaning 'kind', 'sweet' or 'nice'. It's also used as a term of endearment, like 'dear' or 'sweetheart' or it can mean 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend'.
The 'ver' prefix and the 'd' at the end add a resultative dimension. There are plenty of Dutch words that follow the same pattern. A fairly sinister one that pops into my head is 'vermoord' (murdered) of the verb 'moorden' (to murder). 'Ik ben vermoord' would thus translate as the unlikely phrase 'I have been murdered' (at some point in the past).
But then there is also 'verdwaald' (lost) of the verb 'dwalen' (to wander). Unlike with the murder example, 'I am lost' would be a statement referring to a present and ongoing state of affairs (the wandering will continue until an arrow, a friendly passer-by or dumb luck turns the lost into a found). 'Vermist' from the verb 'missen' (to miss) is like that too: currently missing. It is this word you read on those chilling posters stuck to public phones and messy notice boards. In bold black letters, with underneath the black and white photo of a young girl, a gap-toothed smile, unaware of the attention that would one day be paid in the media to the exact details of her clothing, her behavior and her whereabouts during "those final hours".
'Veranderd' ('changed') from the verb 'veranderen' (to change) is different in terms of timing. A change has taken place, and while the result is visible in the present (I have changed), the process in itself has come to an end, it is completed.

The ver-d words do not necessarily refer to just one person or item. Two people can say they have 'verbroederd', from the noun 'broer' (brother), meaning they have become like brothers. Two separate objects can be said to have 'vergroeid', from 'groeien' (to grow) meaning they have grown together to the point where they are one.

So how does 'verliefd' fit in? Another ver-d word based on an adjective is 'verkild', from 'kil' (cold, icy). To be 'verkild' translates as to be overcome by cold, when the wind has crept into your bones. So is 'verliefd' to be overcome by sweetness, kindness, niceness, love? I guess the meaning of 'verliefd' touches on all the other meanings. I could see how it is the result of a past event, as well as an ongoing process. I could also see it as having a sense of completion and irreversibility. And as having an aspect of you having become part of something and something part of you.

Hard to define, hard to grasp, hard to get a hold of. As it should be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sofie. I was looking for a good explanation of verliefd and your commentary provided that. Cheers! Chris

10:08 PM  

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