Talking Dutch: Say what?


The Van Dale Dutch dictionary has polled users for their word of the year, and the users have spoken

Derek Blyth on selfies, boekface and belbossen

Every year, the Van Dale Dutch dictionary asks its Belgian users to pick a word of the year. This time round, the most popular word is selfie, een fotografisch zelfportret, vaak gemaakt met de camera op armlengte en gepubliceerd op een sociaalnetwerksite – a photographic self-portrait, often made with a camera held at arm’s length and published on a social network site. But you probably knew that already, because “selfie” was also voted word of the year in the UK.

Van Dale had offered its users a choice of 18 words in six categories to choose as word of the year. Selfie got 41% of the votes, ahead of swag, which means cool (as you possibly already know if you are swag). 

Also popular was loketjanet, een balieambtenaar die zijn geaardheid bekendmaakt door middel van een regenboog T-shirt – a desk clerk who lets everyone know their sexual orientation by wearing a rainbow T-shirt. The word shot into stardom early last year when Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever mentioned that he wouldn’t want his gay city workers parading around in rainbow shirts.

Van Dale also polls users in the Netherlands to find their favourite word of the year. Some 22,000 took part in the Dutch poll, which included a totally different list of words: sletvrees, angst van vrouwen om voor slet te worden aangezien – a fear among women of being seen as a slut, and socialbesitas, overmatig gebruik van sociale media – an unhealthy addiction to social media.

The list included some words that you might find a little too specialised to be useful in everyday conversation, like belbos, bos aangelegd met de financiële opbrengst van gecycleerd material uit ingezamelde mobiele telefoons – a forest planted from funds raised by selling recycled material from old mobile phones, and geefkast, kast op een publiek toegankelijke plaats, waarin men spullen kan achterlaten die anderen gratis mogen meenemen – a container in a public place where things can be left for others to take away for free.

Another word that’s currently hot in the Netherlands (but  not in Flanders) is boekfacen, which means een portret maken waarop je op de plek van je hoofd een boekomslag (met daarop een portret van een personage) houdt, dat naadloos overgaat in de contouren van je hoofd.

That’s a mouthful, but it’s making a photo by holding a book (with a portrait of a celebrity) in front of your face so that the face fits seamlessly with the shape of your head. You can see some nice results involving Dutch novels at

Wow. I’ll have to try that, I thought. It’s like a selfie. Only it’s not. But it’s definitely swag.   

Talking Dutch: Derek Blyth on selfies, boekface and belbossen

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