Another way looking at a language #2 Meanings

Another way looking at a language

4. Changing meaning

In Dutch we could find that when we would take a translation of the 1970ies the same word would have just the opposite meaning in the 2010’s. It can happen that at a certain time one word can have the opposite meaning depending whom it is using. For example the Dutch word “gijzelaar” today. A word ending on ‘aar’ means the person is doing something. An “Ijveraar” is somebody who is “Ijverend”, has or takes (a lot of) “ijver” zeal, ardour, diligence, so he or she is a “zealot”. A “leraar” is somebody who gives “lering” or “teaching” so he or she is a “teacher”, though for the female teacher the word “lerares” may also be used. (But notice the female form of aar = ares). The same for a “Kunstenaar” the artist is somebody who makes art (“Kunst”).
Therefore a ‘gijzelaar’ is and should be someone taking somebody hostage or taking him as a prisoner. Today by less educated people and on the commercial television stations this word has become the ‘gijzelnemer’ or the hostage taker, the kidnapper or hijacker. The one taken hostage ‘de gegijzelde’ or the hostage has in the language today become the ‘gijzelaar’ for many people while others and certainly those keen on language cleanliness it still stays the same as in previous time and they shall refuse the new word “gijzelnemer” which you could not find in the dictionaries 1985 but got translated as hostage taker in the Big Standard Van Dale Dictionary: Van Dale Groot Woordenboek Nederlands Engels of 2008.

In just a few years transition period, one word got just the opposite meaning. So when we would read the newspapers of the seventies about the Mollukan train hijackers and read them with the language thought of (some) today we would just come to the opposite conclusion. This to show how important it is that we always should look how it was when the words were penned down and what was understood at that time. The Bible Times with several thousands of years time span, are much further away than our few decennia.

5. Calling names

Several people also do not seem to know that in certain countries it is the habit to use nicknames, so often they do not say the real name of a person but give a description of his character or use a title or different name than the real name. In other countries they use pre or a word behind the name to indicate a relation: like the son of Johan, becoming Johanson or in the Slavic countries Johansson(n)/Johanssohn or Johansson.

‘Colorado Bob,’ can than denote the Australian Ka’ryn (Kæ’rën) Pale her American husband from Denver, who could be Bill for Richard for the same matter, but is really Hubby. Because no one could ever remember his actual name, ‘Bob’ became his new first name, and thus ‘Colorado Bob’ was born. He’s now gotten so used to it, when doing business he, Hubby, will often say, “tell ‘em Colorado Bob came by”.

In Australia anyone with red hair is nicknamed “Blue” (because that makes so much sense according the blog writer Karyn Pale), or if they aren’t liked they often use the term “ranga.”
Just find some differences between up North and down Under: Afternoon is arvo, McDonalds is Maccas. Slippery dip is used instead of slide, power point instead of outlet, rego instead of registration, Acca Dacca is AC/DC (the band), anklebiter refers to a child, and finally the ever-whimsical fairy floss instead of cotton candy.

You know in England the theatre also as the operation room from the States or the KO. (?) English like to remain lying on the bench, while the French and older Belgians do that on the sofa while the Australians are than faced with the kitchen counter and the younger Flemish are sleeping on the ‘bank’ which is for the older generation the ‘bank’ were you bring your savings to and not a settee or seat (which they would call ‘zetel’ or ‘armstoel’).

When the above Australian says “The keys/purse/water bottle etc. are on the bench.” she can find her husband outside in the garden searching on and around the bench for the offending missing item, when it is sitting nicely on their counter top.

6. Ways of saying

When the Australian baby sitter said “I’ve been flat chat;” the American thought it was that where she worked. She graciously suppressed her laughter, as she explained to him that the term means ‘busy.’ (Why say a simple word like ‘busy’ when you can jazz it up a little and call it ‘flat chat?’)
Marcus, from Belgium, remembers a few weeks ago when an American got to hear that somebody was mad about his flat and thought he had become crazy because of his flat while the Englishman just loved his flat. (Both had just the opposite of thought in mind: one hating and another loving.)

In such a way you can also find the word serviette instead of napkin, (which for Australians refers instead, to a lady’s sanitary item). This has understandably resulted in Karyn’s husband getting more than a few odd looks, when he asked for one in a restaurant. (She imagines there are a lot less waiters on their breaks, talking about the weird American dude and his penchant for ladies personal items to be supplied with his dinner.)

7. Peculiarities of a language

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” you can see language can be a very strange thing even for person who think they speak nearly the same language. We always should be aware of ways of saying, phrases, expressions, proverbs and try to understand the manner of speaking and the mind behind what is expressed by the words and not take the word literally.

The Zip-a-Dee Lady is a fictional ship feature...

Taking it literally it would sometimes become very strange: when somebody says: “I’ve got a bone to pick with you. ” ; ‘the angels are pissing” ; ” But I Think Jesus Is Pissed. “; ” I had you on a pedestal” ; ” I have to be authentically me, and I’ve shed everything that doesn’t support that authenticity! ” ; ““You can’t handle the truth!” It would simply blow your mind, ” ; “we have the right to become entrenched where we are,”; ” I’m going to have a killer surfer bod”; ” it was just the way the cookie had to crumble if I was going to be part of the “big snatch.”; ” “My sorry-ass “; “It’s fun to poke at him “for some contemporary sayings. But those were “just a drop in the sea” better than “the drop in the bucket” and someone who “knows London like his pocket”.

So before our visitors “go and boil their face” we do hope the “devil confounds us”, though we know that when we talk of an angel you’ll hear the flutter of her wings. (In Dutch we say literally translated: “When you speak of Satan you see him” or “Speaking of the devil you step on his tale”)



Previous: Another way looking at a language #1 New Year, Books and Words


You can find the inspirational articles for this series of articles:

Accuracy, Word-for-Word Translation Preferred by most Bible Readers

You Say Tomato

Don’t Quote Me—But I Think Jesus Is Pissed!

Disney, I Can See the Cracks


  • Sacred Languages (
    A relation to the sacred is inherent within many indigenous languages. The justification for the renewal of tribal languages is often the belief that language contains meaning that is not well understood or translated into English, or other languages. For many tribal cultural programs, language is a major strategy for renewing culture and identity. There is great wisdom in this viewpoint, but what can it mean?
  • Should Australian Kids Learn Aboriginal Languages? (
    Many indigenous languages are currently extinct, and plenty of others are well on their way. According to Ethnologue—a Web site associated with the Dallas-based International Linguistics Center—there are 6,909 recorded languages, but only 389 (or barely 6 percent) of them have at least one million speakers. Indeed, estimates that 6,520 languages have fewer than a million speakers, 5,625 languages fewer than 100,000 speakers, and 1,787 languages are spoken by fewer than a thousand people. The risk of extinction exists not only for myriad Native languages, but also for indigenous languages in Australia, Africa, Russia, and elsewhere.
  • How to Hack Language Learning (
    there are tons of nouns and verbs and adjectives. You will eventually need to know many in order to have a decent conversation, but that is a lot of work. Also, you can often figure them out from context. If the other person says something like “I like that XYZ” and is pointing at some object, you can guess that it’s an XYZ. Adverbs are different, and they can change the meaning of a sentence dramatically.
  • English is a funny language (
    I think about how hard it must be for those arriving in a new country who do not have a resident local language encyclopaedia to help!
  • New Ojibwe Language Resource Available (
    When you lose a language, you lose culture. When you lose culture, who knows what you lose.
  • The Language of Aboriginal Australians (
    cultural changes and innovations could spread even among groups who would not have been able to understand each other. The Language of Aboriginal Australians however helped to distinguish one group of settlers from another since most communities was based on the ability of one speaker to understand the other.
  • When Are We Best At Learning Language? (
    how and when we learn the language(s) we use to communicate with the people in the environment the part of the world we inhabit has during our time on the earth.
  • Italian Language – Part II (
    the truly important thing in any language is the idiom.  When I hear them, they send me totally off track, since I’m trying the futile word-for-word method.  He treasures them and considers it a wonderful opportunity to really delve into the language. Needless to say – the Italians adore him.
  • “The closest English word you have is “cosy” but that only covers part of it.” (
    Instilled with a superiority complex, I was of the mindset that anything said in another language could be translated, with its full value intact, to English; being one of the “largest and more complex” languages of the world, how could it not accurately convey the meaning of the rather “primitive counterparts”? However, upon coming to the Netherlands, my outlook as changed substantially. Not only is the word’s largest dictionary the “Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal” (Dictionary of the Dutch Language), there are words in the Dutch language that [as far as I know] English lacks – descriptions of a complex situational/emotional/societal state by a sole descriptor. You could argue that these words can be effectively translated, however in my attempts I’ve found that nearly all the depth is lost in translation – the English words sound banal in comparison.
  • Why dctionary is not complete (
    do you know what a “splashdown” is? Words also change their meanings. The word “gay” means something different than it did a 100 years ago.

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