363. Vogelvrij

outlawed [adjective] [‘voo-gul-vrij’]

is composed of "vogel" ("bird") and "vrij" ("free"). Although it sounds
like being free as a bird, the real meaning of "vogelvrij" is that you
are not protected by law.

Today in the Netherlands this word is mainly used in its figurative
sense, most often in the expression "iemand vogelvrij verklaren": to
outlaw somebody.

– "Velen vrezen dat Geert Wilders zichzelf vogelvrij verklaart als hij zijn film over de Koran uitbrengt."
fear that Geert Wilders outlaws himself if he releases his film about
the Koran." Here we refer to the Dutch politician Geert Wilders who plans
to release a critical film about the Koran titled ‘Fitna’. There are
already protests against this film (in the Netherlands but also abroad)
even though it has not been released yet.)

– "In het wilde Westen was het niet ongebruikelijk dat iemand vogelvrij werd verklaard."
("In the Wild West it was not uncommon for somebody to be outlawed.")

– "Er is onlangs een document gevonden uit de negentiende eeuw
waarin de onschuldige wetenschapper Giordano vogelvrij werd verklaard."
("A document from the nineteenth century has recently been found in which the innocent scientist Giordano was outlawed.")

Related words:
– "Rechteloos": lawless.
– "Straffeloos": unpunished.

4 thoughts on “363. Vogelvrij

  1. I think you stretched the English meaning of outlaw(ed) beyond its normal (accepted) use.
    Robin Hood was an outlaw (as is Osama Bin Laden) – but say Salman Rushdie did not outlaw himself when he wrote his book about the prophet (whose name I have forgotten). But I can’t think of the English equivalent for what you are trying to say.

  2. I agree with Jurjen’s point. Normal english usage of “outlaw” is a criminal, whatever their motives. I am not familiar with the Dutch term – which is why I am reading this site – however, from your description I think that “above the law”, i.e. someone who thinks that the law does not apply to them, would be a better translation.

  3. Hi Dave, yeah, we had some trouble finding a good translation here. Sometimes we try to get close and sometimes we can’t find a good translation. Nevertheless we hope that the Dutch sentence is clear, since that is what it’s all about (in this case 😉 ).
    Regarding the example sentence, indeed, I stretch the meaning of “to outlaw”, but: in a way I also did the same thing on purpose in Dutch -“zichzelf vogelvrij verklaren” does not exist as such. “Iemand vogelvrij verklaren” in Dutch means that whoever is “vogelvrij verklaard” can basically be punished/killed by anyone. Now, this is not practised of course in modern times in NL and I’m not sure it was ever practised btw.
    In the example about Geert Wilders I used it in a figurative way and tried to say that many fear that because of his actions, he will basically call it upon himself to be punished or killed (outside the law).
    And this is of course only an example sentence, showing how you might hear “vogelvrij” being used.

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