Do you know that feeling, when you wholeheartedly embrace the totality of humanity, when you for a moment in time deeply care for everyone, and accept them for what they are, and even for what they are not? But then some idiot gets funky with you and you are forced to put him in his place, and remember that a big bunch of people fucking suck? Whatever the case, that isn’t what this article is really about. This article is more about words, Dutch words in this case.
A Dutch insult which never fails to make me smirk when I hear it is mongooltje, the diminutive form of mongool, which translates to the English word retard. When written with a capital letter, Mongool translates to a person from Mongolia. My guess is, someone sometime during history remarked that Mongolian people and people with Down’s syndrome have somewhat similar eyes, and as such there clearly is a vestigial racist element to the insult, which I feel ambivalent towards, not because I particularly care about racism, but because the Mongolians used to be badass once, and if the insult was born in the minds of sore losers hating on Genghis after getting their ass handed to them, that would be mildly disappointing. We’ll leave that little thread dangling from it’s ball of yarn, then.
Now you might ask, why the diminutive form? One reason might be that it is already pretty insulting to be called a retard, so calling someone a little retard just adds a little of that “over the top” that you need when you’re really mad. As it is a pretty grave insult, and also comes with a cost for those using it in social justice world, there are only two settings in which I have ever heard this form of the word used (apart from people talking about actual children with Down’s, that is), namely, in the case of someone wanting to show maximum disrespect to someone they are mad with (when one is ready to break all ties with them, or when one highly outranks them in social standing), and in the case of males of somewhat equal status gently testing each other (that came out weird) in familiar or informal settings. From experience, I’d say it’s used more by males than females, but I never really talk to females (JUST A JOKE – red.), so I’m not sure about that. Usage example: “Rot op man, mongooltje!”, translated: “Get the fuck out of here, little retard!”.
Now when I started thinking about the use of the word more, I realized two things. Firstly, Dutch speakers are quite fond of using diminutive forms. Thankfully, this urge is not as bad as it seems to be for Latin Americans, who apparently use them a lot even for verbs and adjectives, something that inexplicably makes me livid whenever I read or hear it. Secondly, they are quite fond of using words that translate to the word retard as an insult. And here I made an amusing discovery, that also might touch on something deeper. Stay tuned!
To help you add some variation to your Dutch insult game, I present here four alternatives to the word mongool: randdebiel, debiel, imbeciel, and idioot. Know what’s interesting about these words? Well, I found out that these terms used to be… formal medical terms! Now don’t pin me down on this, but I think I put them in order from “can’t do math as fast as the rest of the class” to “drooling on himself in the corner of the room all day”, or at any rate, from least bad to worst. So this means, once upon a time, doctors and other medical professionals used these terms to classify subjects and get stuff done (“nurse, go get the idioot, leave the debiel!”), and the terms were used in medical writing! Isn’t that brilliant? At this point, they are strictly insults (and idioot can also be used as an adjective to indicate something being stupid, like in “een idioot plan”, meaning a very stupid plan), and as a Dutch speaker, there is something highly amusing about picturing people calling other people debiel in highly formal and professional settings. One or more smart people having to sit down and come up with a ranking system for retards is also a pretty funny picture.
A less boorish, more inquisitive soul might at this point tire of thinking about retard jokes, and wonder, why do these words turn into insults, and why do they lose their former status of just naming a phenomenon. And here I think there is something interesting going on. It seems that people have a psychological drive to do away with words that (1) describe them or those they affiliate with and (2) carry negative connotations socially. In this, there is a component of wanting to wish away reality, which might just be a pretty large component. This then becomes one of the factors that forces evolution in language (I’m not making any claims as to knowing how big of a factor this is, but it is a factor). So, in this case, people at the bottom of the intelligence spectrum exist, someone makes up a name for it so people can talk about it and do useful things with it, the word is used more and more as an insult, feelings get hurt, social pressure to do away with the word rises up, a new word is invented, and then (sorry guys!) we go through it all again. Guess it is easier to change words than to change your lot in life.
A similar thing is at this moment going on in Dutch politics with the word allochtoon, a word invented a couple of decades ago (by decree of the geniuses in our political parties!) to denote in a neutral manner those whose parents weren’t born in the Netherlands, but which at this point carries for many people the negative connotation of “being of lower social/economic standing” (in other words the reality, statistically). So now, debates are being held about whether we should do away with the word and/or come up with a new word. The word buitenlander (foreigner) is probably already tainted as it also carries with it similar negative connotations, so I’m really anxious to learn what cool word they will come up with next. Not! The really cool thing is that this all has made me realize that a big part of politicians’ jobs is to help as many people as possible be able to keep denying reality, and their popular popularity is actually directly related to how good they are at this. Mind = blown, and I hope I at least tingled yours!
Next article, I’ll talk about Dutch words lovers use to name one another during the initial phase of their romance when they are still in love and everything is still viewed through rose-tinted glasses. Or something completely different.