TU’s Word Buster

On November 26, 2015, TU Delft professor Richard Goossens was invited on Dutch TV show De Wereld Draait Door. Four Dutch professors were invited on the show to weigh in on an annual tradition; picking an irritating word to drop from the Dutch dictionary.

Every year the Institute for Dutch Lexicology asks people to suggest words they think should be dropped. A shortlist is then selected and voted on. Voting opens on December 8. On the show, Prof Goossens suggested deukdij. The word translates to ‘dent thigh’, and denotes a relatively unknown condition in which semi-circular indentations are formed on thighs.

What made him suggest this particular word? The answer comes with a fascinating back story.

“Sometime in the 1970s a Dutch doctor in Belgium coined the term when he recorded this condition in seven women. Around 2002 a bank in Belgium reported hundreds of cases with the same symptoms. The doctors did not know how to respond and several theories began to emerge,” said Goossens.

One of those theories was that electromagnetic rays from the desk-computers were travelling via the desk, to the chair and on to the floor. En route, the rays intersected with human flesh, thereby causing a chemical reaction. “Those who came up with this theory suggested carbon flooring and the bank complied. But nothing changed. Then some fake science theories began to do the rounds that an anomaly or interference with earth’s radiation lines was causing this. The bank called in someone who claimed they could clean the space and correct the lines. The story began to appear in the news and that’s how we heard of it.”

Goossens, a professor of Physical Ergonomics at the Department of Industrial Design Engineering, had done his thesis on ergonomically sound office chairs. He looked into a simple model of office chairs and how a person typically sits and found that if you sit a certain angle (where you keep slipping downwards) there is a clear indentation in the skin. After he made his suggestion to the bank, he didn’t hear any more on the topic for years.

“I was in Belgium a few months ago and someone said they have heard of a few cases. The word was in my mind and the first thing I thought of when the show asked which word I would vote out.”

Does he have a suggestion for a replacement? “It’s an aesthetic condition and deukdij is such an ugly word for it. I proposed the phrase ‘Dimple in the thigh’. My wife doesn’t agree, but I think if a dimpled chin and cheeks can be pretty, why not a thigh?”

Interestingly, while most people he has spoken to don’t like the word either, he did get some curious questions. “Some people said it’s not in the dictionary anyway, so why propose it?” 

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