What to call it? Dutch terms used on this web


You will get only so far with Leeuwenhoek before you will have to learn Dutch. The secondary literature about his science is mostly in English.

However, the secondary literature about his life and times and almost all of the primary sources are in Dutch. With the Alle de Brieven / Complete Letters still incomplete, the final letters, including the 46 Send-brieven, have never been published in English translation.

On Lens on Leeuwenhoek:

  • Proper nouns, those already capitalized, usually stay in Dutch, for example, Oude Kerk, Den Haag, Prinsenhof, and, of course, people's names.

The Dutch Lion

The Dutch Republic, declared in 1581, was the first such creature in the history of civilization. The Greek city-states never grew or united; their scope remained local. It wasn't until 1648's Peace of Westphalia that the European powers, all top-down kingdoms, empires and sultanates, recognized the independence of the Dutch Republic. For the next century, they kept it engaged in almost constant war that depleted the Republic's resources but did not disturb its core institutions.

Not until the American and French revolutions of the late 1700's did the rest of Europe and the Americas begin to throw off or relegate their kings and emperors and follow the Dutch democratic model. It was during that period that the institutions we know today emerged along with the terms to describe them.

  • Some terms, due to cultural changes, don't have clear translations. Most of them are legal terms relating to the governance of the City and Leeuwenhoek's place in it. Example: kamerbewaarder.
  • Some short quotations, mostly from Leeuwenhoek's letters, are in Dutch followed by English translations, usually mine.
  • Printed works that have been translated are referred to by their English titles.
  • Titles of works that haven't been translated, for example, Boitet's Beschryving der Stadt Delft, or the volumes in the Delft archives, stay in Dutch.

The institutions of the Dutch Republic, as well as the terms to describe them, can present some confusion to the modern reader. Because Leeuwenhoek and his ancestors were so involved in the governance of Delft, it is worth describing the institutions of the Dutch Republic as he experienced them. To emphasize the distinctions, this web retains some of the Dutch terminology. On Lens on Leeuwenhoek, these words stay in Dutch, without italics.

  • Akte

refers to a variety of legal instruments, such as a deed, a contract, or a charter.

  • Camerbewaarder (often camerbewaerder or kamerbewaarder)

refers to an official of the magistrate's court. Often translated as chamberlain, with the implication of janitor.

  • Regent

does not refer to the same person as the English word regent refers to. The regents in a Dutch city were the wealthy people who paid most of the taxes and after the middle of the 13th century managed the city's government. Taken together, the regents of the 18 cities of the Dutch Republic ruled the country for over two hundred years beginning in the late 1500's. Leeuwenhoek's mother's family on both sides, the van den Berchs (her father) and the Hogenhoucks (her mother), were regents. Leeuwenhoek himself was not.

The waterways are a special case. The Dutch make an important distinction between those:

  • lined with bricks within a city, a gracht, as in the photo above of the Oude Delft looking toward the Oude Kerk where Leeuwenhoek is buried
  • around the city, a singel
  • draining the fields, seldom navigable when small, a sloot
  • providing major transport between cities, a kanaal

In English, they're all canals. On Lens on Leeuwenhoek, I use the Dutch words, especially gracht and sloot, without italics, and their Dutch plurals, grachten and sloten. Canal refers to the Vliet between Delft and den Haag/Leiden and to the Schie between Deflt and Delftshaven.