I remember Richard telling me the French word for sunflower—tournesol—literally means, “turn to the sun.”
“Isn’t that beautiful,” he said.
The poetry of nature in a word: Sunflowers really do turn their faces toward the sun.
My kids’ adventures with languages are something we share, although their fluencies are beyond my grasp. Words—I can deal with words—but complete sentences and actual conversations are another story.
On my last visit to Belgium, I got the bonjour and merci down pretty well for the French-speaking folks. And in preparation for the Flemish next month, I’ve mastered hallo and dank u.
But the words I am finding most fascinating are the garden translations.
Marina and Koen have a garden plot not far from their home in Ghent. It was overrun by Jerusalem artichokes, or as Koen would say, aardperen—earth pears. They harvested kilos of aardperen last fall, preparing them in a variety of ways in the kitchen, just as they fix aardappelen—earth apples—or what we call potatoes.
Now I don’t know why we call garbanzo beans chickpeas, I mean, what are chick peas? But in Dutch, chickpeas are kikkererwten, literally frog peas. I can see more of a resemblance between frog eggs and chickpeas than chickpeas and chicken eggs.
To me, chickpeas look a lot like nasturtium seeds—and that’s where this word story gets really crazy. Koen was insisting on growing East Indian cherries. Marina didn’t know how they’d grow a cherry tree in their small garden plot or their even tinier backyard. Lo and behold, Google Translate came to the rescue. Oostindische kers—East Indian cherries—translates into nasturtiums in English. Now I’ve read that unripe nasturtium seeds can be pickled as a substitute for capers—maybe that is where the “cherries” come in. There is also a Dutch painter born in Indonesia, Floris Arntzenius (1864-1925), whose artwork includes the recurring theme of ginger jars overflowing with “East Indian cherries”. They sure look like nasturtiums to me.
Now all of this garden word play is pretty cool—or should I say kool? There is witte kool (white cabbage) and rode kool (red cabbage) and savooikool (savoy cabbage) and bloemkool (cauliflower) and boerenkool (kale), so much kool that one day Marina said, “I’m going to make coleslaw with all of these kools.” Then, she said, it finally clicked. The Dutch word for salad is sla. Kool+sla = our English coleslaw…cabbage salad. Laurie Lynch
P.S. A few comments from Koen, my Dutch-speaking editor and champion English Scrabble player:
Although Marina made coleslaw with several cabbages and English speakers make plurals by adding an s or an es…not so with Dutch speakers. Normally, when a singular word contains a double vowel, such as kool, the second vowel is dropped and an en is added. The plural of kool is not kools but kolen. The word for the Dutch singular of banana is banaan; a bunch of bananas is bananen.
It is one thing to learn how to spell a few Dutch words…but it is time, Koen says, for Marina’s mom to move onto pronunciation…