Tuesday, 6 October 2009


There's a beautiful verb in Dutch, which I find hard to translate: soggen. Sog is short for Studie Ontwijkend Gedrag, literally Study Avoiding Behaviour. But sabbing is not just any type of ducking your responsibilities, it's not picking your belly button. To explain what I mean with, I'll explain what I've been up to lately.

Upcoming Thursday, I'll have to defend my philosophy thesis. This requires an extensive preparation, especially since I've written this dissertation before I went to England, a year ago, and haven't looked back at it since.

So, ideally, I would lock myself up in the library, reread all texts I used and my notes, memorise key passages of my dissertation and do some more research into both translation theory and the philosophy of Walter Benjamin.

But... I couldn't resist surfing the web for interesting job vacancies; read In de mist van het schimmenrijk” by W.F. Hermans; arrange interviews with several important people in The Netherlands; write the synopsis of my novel so that I can send it to an agent; read Ruth Rendell's The Monster in The Box and write a review for www.OpSpraak.net (conclusion: it's a thriller in the tradition if-you've-got-a-lion-in-a-cage, someone has to forget to close the cage. Unfortunately, some emotional lions remained caged, while plot-technical lions escaped from cages I hadn't seen before.); organise my graduation party and surf the discussions on LinkedIn. Someone posted the question “Do you play games with language in your wrintings, or do you stick to the 'rules'? And, either way, why do you do so?” and I even posted a reply.

Whenever I start to think up word games, this is a sign I'm distracted from the story I'm trying to tell.

Either because the story is boring - in which case I should stop - or because I'm approaching a very sensitive, difficult scene - in which case I should definitely not start playing games, but should focus on the storytelling!

Sometimes I change words while editing because they are funnier, because of etymological reasons or because they add an extra layer of meaning to the whole story. But that's what editing is for.

While writing, I'm not managing the words. The words choose me. I mean, I usually don't know which words I'm going to write down before they're there. Just like when I'm speaking.

And if I do know which words I'm going to use (e.g. when I'm playing with words), people often tell me that that passage doesn't sound right. The words are in charge, not me.”

In short, I've been promoting my novel, thinking about my career and organising my graduation party. It's all very interesting and important. But I've been doing anything but cramming for my defence appeal. Which is what I should have been doing.

I wonder why there is no good English word for soggen, so that I have to invent sabbing (which actually has to do with spontaneous abortion – how appropriate!). Is it typically a problem for Dutch students, that there are so many important things to take care of that don't involve studying?


  1. What you explain about sabbing goes for playing with your language when you ought to be telling a story as well. It is very important that you do it, but you shouldn't let it overtake other important aspects.

    Good luck with defending your thesis,


  2. Good luck, Deb! Defending a thesis sounds quite passive. Isn't attack the best form of defence?

  3. @willem: I didn't want to say it before, but to me, "playing with your language" sounds like talking dirty to yourself. Getting caught "playing with your language" almost seems worse to me than that scene from Little Children.

    @GB: I guess you're right. Not to worry, I still have a couple of hours to prepare my verbal attack... Strategy no. 1 outnumber the academics with my family and friends...

  4. How did it go, Deb? Did you attack them with a windharp?

  5. Excellent! I got an 8!
    Thanks for asking! I feel so relieved and so happy!

    I think I was so anxious that I didn't even see how hard I was working for it... apparently, the sabbing wasn't that bad after all!

  6. Congrats. I am also avoiding studying for this baby accountancy exam. Wish it was in words and not numbers. I'd be better at it.

  7. An 8! That's great. Congratulations!!!

  8. Thanks!

    @Mme DeFarge: writing words instead of numbers just makes your calculations a lot harder to check! Good luck!

  9. I like Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine, but have never been so keen on her Wexford books. So this novel was a surprise to me, it is only a short novel with just under 300 pages but i was completely engrossed and couldnt put it down. The writing is gripping and sharp, making The monster in the Box very chilling and scary in places. The character Of Wexford is fully explored.In the other novels in this series i never really felt that i particulary liked Wexford . But this novel has changed my view completely ,as Ruth Rendell explores and expands her characters human side in detail ,There are nice touches as he reflects on his life before he became an inspector. There is plenty of nice detail as Wexford reveals his perfect type of Woman. This book in many ways is about the character of Reg Wexford. Having said that, the crimes reveal a terrorifying depiction of the human psyche of a sociopathic nasty cold blooded killer. Any fans of Rendell will be hooked, as i was by this chilling little novel.

  10. Good luck with your thesis, Debbie. I hope you leave them speechless with your presentation. Please let your readerships know about it.

    ((good vibes and the best of luck))

  11. Not studying but I have several WATs (Work Avoidance Tactics)that I employ on a regular basis, they ensure a constant sense of panic and anxiety about not being on top of anything.

  12. @Leni: Thanks!

    @Lulu: ah, that's a brilliant word, the WAT! It's a terrible tool to employ though, it kills you!

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