February 23, 2012

Etymology of Dutch word for bicycle cracked after 140 years

Filed under: Bicycles by Orangemaster @ 4:48 pm

Two Flemish linguists of Ghent University in Belgium have finally pinpointed the historical origin of the Dutch word ‘fiets’ (‘bicycle’, sounds exactly like ‘feats’). They claim it comes from the German word ‘Vize’ (pronounced ‘vietse’, almost rhymes with ‘pizza’), which means the same as the English ‘vice’ (like in Vice-President, a ‘deputy’ president). In this case, it’s a surrogate horse, a ‘vice horse’. And a ‘vice horse’ is understood to be a bicycle.

The Dutch word ‘fiets’ was very different from the French word ‘vélocipède’, where the bicycle originated from in 1870, the English word and the German word ‘Fahrrad’. The French abbreviation ‘vélo’ couldn’t possibly have turned into ‘fiets’. A man called E.C. Viets from Wageningen started making bicycles around 1880, which was often quoted as a possible origin, but that was historically incorrect.

One day, one of the linguists was pouring some cider for a German colleague from a region who called it ‘Vize’ (vice-wine, surrogate wine), although in Dutch it could have sounded like the German had said ‘bad wine’ (‘vies’ in Dutch means ‘dirty’ or ‘bad quality’ in this case). But the German was speaking German and meant to say ‘surrogate wine’, ‘Vize’ being used for all kinds of surrogate things in his region of Germany.

The German ‘Vize-Pferd’ (‘surrogate horse’) was discovered by the linguists in written documents and then they found German dialect words ‘Fitz’ and ‘Fietse’, which was the missing link to ‘fiets’. A lot of Dutch words come from German, but for some reason, ‘Vize’, a bit like saying ‘bike’ or ‘vélo’ never made it over the German border.

(Link: www.standaard.be)

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