Dutch profanity is bliss


The TU/e recently announced that it will probably switch to English as its main working language. This turned out to be a sly PR stunt, as it raised the eyebrows of some members in the Dutch parliament. They questioned the motives for this decision and wondered whether the jobs of TU/e employees who do not speak English would be safe.

Hence, the proposed change has sparked a debate, creating a schism between two sides. On the one hand, there are those who believe that the Brainport region needs to be an inclusive, international environment for all nationalities to enjoy, and that using English as a lingua franca would be a step forward. On the other hand, a significant portion of TU/e’s population does not support a full-English environment, nor English as their default mode of conduct, as it makes them either uncomfortable or sound like a stereotypical ‘Dutch person who speaks English’.

And rightly so. Many employees, for instance those working in the HR department, have already faced numerous changes due to the large influx of international students to the new Bachelor’s and Master’s programs. A further transition to English would require a new set of skills that may fall outside their comfort zone.

We better start sellin’ the Dutch language

Therefore, I would like to support this group by introducing some flip-thinking, which should smoothen the transition. Rather than opposing English, why not become pro-Dutch and promote our great language far and wide? If you don’t want the Dutch language to disappear, better start sellin’ it.

I understand the peculiarity of my proposition, but bear with me. The TU/e is home to large numbers of poor international students who don’t get around to learning Dutch - because of the Dutch. Think about it: for each non-Dutch student that might even start to mispronounce a single Dutch word, there is a Dutch person in the room who will roll his or her eyes and switch to English in conversation. This even happened to me, a young man born and raised in Eindhoven, in the Albert Heijn last weekend. Since I could not understand what the girl at the cash register asked me, she promptly switched to English. What a time to be alive in Eindhoven.

This Dutch tendency to adapt rather than allowing others to adopt is a shame, as Dutch is a unique language. Case in point is my favorite Wikipedia page: Dutch Profanity, and particularly the section on ‘diseases’. Whenever I have a hard day, I just visit this page and read the different 18th century possibilities to insult the people around me and feel a whole lot better.

Defying the laws of mathematics

By applying disease profanity, the Dutch language defies the laws of mathematics. In mathematics, a plus and minus sign combined results in a negative value. Dutch does not work that way, however, particularly when it comes to the valence of different expressions. I recently told a colleague that I had ‘tyfuslekker weekend’, or a ‘typhoid nice weekend’. He replied that he was pleased to hear that, much to the confusion of my non-Dutch colleague.

Dutch allows us to combine negative profanities (‘typhoid’) with positive words (‘lekker’) to arrive at a positive expression. I would suggest it’s about time that our international peers learn about this principle and understand that Dutch profanity is bliss. And the Dutch should allow them to do so. Although some might have already been introduced to positive profanity as ‘teringlekker’ or ‘kankerlekker’, the latter being somewhat offensive, there are still plenty of students and researchers who need to be educated about the upsides of medieval diseases in everyday speech. Let’s spread the love and profanity, far and tuberculosis wide.

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