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Today, Dutch History Was Lost in Translation


Look, Dutch is a tough language for non-natives. The grammar is complicated and whimsical. The past participle All About Eve’s every other verb form and quite a few adjectives. There are unlikely homonyms differentiated only by context. (Did I lend or borrow? Important distinction left entirely to the listener’s contextual understanding.) It’s an expressive language, one that’s set up for wit and verbal dexterity. It is not, however, a good candidate for Google translate.

This has got to be my favorite translation error yet. Multiple “today in history” sites have it listed as fact that around 15,000  Amsterdammmers were cremated in Domela Newenhouse. I looked up some newspapers of the day, expecting to find an event like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. What I found was this: Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis was a Lutheran preacher who is sometimes referred to as the Netherlands’ first socialist. He was a tireless advocate for worker’s rights. He fought for universal suffrage. He was the first socialist elected to the House of Representatives. He died on November 18, 1919. On November 22, his funeral procession was witnessed by 15,000 of the workers he’d spend his life advocating for, after which he was cremated.

An important man to learn about and an important lesson not to rely on Google translate!