For some time now I have been the proud owner of the ‘Van Dale Great Dictionary English-Dutch’, and of its sister D-E. Not just the dictionaries, but the translator’s editions. What does a physiscist do with a translator’s edition of a dictionary? Well, what does a student do with booze… Anyway, that translator’s edition. There is much in there, but how much? A random check will not do, because chances are you won’t pick any words that are ‘special’. It’s far better to look for words that appear in English, but do not have equivalents in Dutch.

Now it happens that I know a thing or two about cricket, a sport the English are simply mad about. A sport that has its own peculiar jargon. Any Dutchman that ever sat through a match report and tried to follow the commentaries must have been wondering what the **** they meant with the ‘silly mid-ons’, the ‘googlys’, the ‘yorkers’ (when for one thing it was clear this was a match between Sussex and Warwickshire), and the ‘slips’. Not mentioning the men at ‘gully’ and ‘square’. Does Van Dale give an answer?

Yes, all the terms mentioned above have been translated correctly by Van Dale, albeit ‘silly’ and ‘mid-on’ must be combined to get the right notion. I did look at a lot of other terms, and I have to admit, it was not at all as bad as I had expected. One even finds abbreviation like l.b.w. and n.o. But things are missing. Not a single word on the fielding position ‘deep fine leg’, not under ‘deep’, not under ‘fine’, not under ‘leg’, although it begs for explanation. Nothing on the ‘Nelson’, even though this is not a very uncommon term. ‘To walk’ is something one does in baseball and basketball, but there this word has a completely different meaning—although, I must admit, walking is something that happens less and less in cricket.

Not only does Van Dale have omissions, it also knows additions. How’s that, umpire? it states. Not a single cricket player ever used these words. The Laws, in particular Law 27.2, simply prescribe How’s that? (which in practice comes down to how’za?!?). Where the umpire came from nobody knows.

How a dictionary can be creative.


This text was previously published in the By The Way…, volume 54.

© Roelof Ruules