Monday, June 30, 2008

Dutch is Sometimes a Blunt Instrument

I speak very little Dutch -- enough to get by at the supermarket and on public transport -- but I am able to read a fair bit, thanks largely to Dutch television. On the Dutch channels, the foreign programs -- most of them American, British or Australian -- are subtitled rather than dubbed. So, when I watch Oprah for example, I listen to the English spoken while I read along with the Dutch subtitles.

(Compare to Germany, where everything is dubbed. I was NOT amused when I channel surfed by the opening of A Room with a View, only to realize that I was on a German station and not a Dutch one. By the way, the Dutch like to say that the Germans use dubbing because their literacy rate is too low for subtitling to work. The Dutch and the Germans just love each other to bits.)

Sometimes a new Dutch word will stick in my head because it's about a subtle as sledgehammer. Here's one I learned recently. I can't recall what I was watching, but I'd guess that it was an episode of Oprah with Dr. Oz. So here's the word:


What could it mean? I'll give you a couple of hints.

1. tand means tooth

Any guesses yet?

2. vlees mean meat or flesh or pulp

So tandvlees is gums, or toothmeat. Eeewwww.

I'm not judging the Dutch language -- well, maybe a little. I don't know the etymology of the word gums, so for me the term is nearly euphemism. Unlike tandvlees, gums is not disgustingly descriptive.

Now I'm trying to think of English words, not slang or vulgarity, that evoke yucky images. Any ideas?