Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Alchemy of Dutch and English

Wee o wee ...
Can be translated as
Dear oh dear ...
Except that 'wee' means 'woe'

In my youth, when my mother said "Wee o wee ..." to some child, it meant "Woe betide ..." We all understood that "if I find out that ..." came after it without being spoken.

As some of us became teenagers, in Australia, we'd say the Dutch words using an Australian pronunciation, as she threatened a younger miscreant.

"Way oh way ..."

Someone else would pun

"Weigh the consequences ..."

if my mother meant her words as a warning. The Dutch version would be "Wee je gebeente als je ...."

If a thing was being denied the younger child, some wise elder child would say,

"Where there is a will ...." A call to revolt, if I remember rightly.

My poor mother never could say anything to one child alone until the bulk of us had left home.


My first stop for an old word is an old dictionary. Van Goor's Engels Zakwoordenboek by F. Prick van Wely (1956)

It tells me:
Wee = Woe
Wee U! = Woe to you! (I have never hear this in speech, some kind of witch's curse?)
Wee je gebeente als ... = I'll be very unhappy if you ... (yet 'gebeente' means 'bones' which makes it sound like a medieval curse of some kind too.)
O wee! = Oh dear! (I prefer to think this would be more accurate as Woe is me!)

And there are also:
weemoed = sadness
weemoedig = melancholy
wees = orphan

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