Metaphor, Translation, and OCCUPY AMSTERDAM

Curator's Note

The Dutch emergence of the Occupy phenomenon centered in a small square located between the Beurs (stock exchange) and the Bijenjorf, the country's upscale department store. In this way, it has adapted the Occupy Wall Street focus on the stock exchange as a site for expressing social unrest and folds in a critique of consumer capitalism through its proximity to an iconic Dutch business. If the New York Stock Exchange was across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue, the effect would be similar. Translating the meaning of space extends Occupy into new territories and yet the term as such has not been translated in Amsterdam or in the Dutch media. Why does the English term occupy persist in a Dutch language environment? What would translating occupy mean in Dutch? What does such a translation highlight and what does its absence conceal about the meaning of using occupation as a metaphor for social change?

The direct translation of occupy into Dutch is bezet which means literally to not be free, the occupation of a foreign force, or to be sit upon. The last bezetting (occupation) of the Netherlands was in the spring of 1940 when Nazis took over the country. The direct adoption of the English term occupy into the Dutch context separates in some way the idea of occupation from its very destructive role in recent Dutch history. At the same time, it may limit the metaphorical strength of the term because it is a terminological import. In the U.S. context, where no foreign military has ever been an occupier, the metaphor may have more flexibility. Interestingly, the Dutch language has a related term, verzet, which translates as resistance and was used to refer to the Dutch resistance movement that worked to undermine the Nazi rule of the 1940s (see Verzetsmuseum/Resistance Museum). Bezet and verzet are closely related etymologically and refer, through inseparable prefixes, to distinctive ways of acting upon or sitting upon: thus, bezet (occupy) means to act or sit upon whereas verzet (resist) becomes the actor or sitter. Because it allows agency to be claimed, the concept of verzet (resistence) may provide more metaphorical depth for social critique and change.      


*Thanks to Miriam Jacobs and Iris Smalbrugge for talking over these translations.


Thank you for this post! We actually struggled a lot with the use of the term in Minneapolis, since much of the city is on Native American land that was occupied by white settlers. The Occupy MN group actually went to a Dakota organization to get permission to use the language before an official campaign began. A Dakota elder spoke at the first rally in support, acknowledging the importance of reclaiming language. 

Thanks again, this was really interesting.

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