Saturday, December 12, 2009

This here’s Winkel’s town, pahdnah

And don’t yew fergit it.

When I was a boy (traditional opening of stories told by old guys), my family moved from South Africa to the US. We didn’t stay here long, that time, but it was long enough for me to watch every cowboy show I could on TV and every cowboy movie I could in the theaters. At that time, there were a lot of both.

Then we moved back to South Africa. I was 10 at this point. We moved to a town named Rustenburg in the Transvaal, the deepest depths of the Afrikaner homeland, an area that had played a huge role in Boer history. Afrikaners in those days felt that there was considerable similarity between their ancestors of Great Trek days and the Americans who settled the Wild West, and the local library had a huge collection of cowboy novels. (No one called them Westerns in those days.) I devoured them all.

Rustenburg was a small town then, with one main street, which had lots of small shops owned by individual proprietors. (Yes, this was during Apartheid, so those were white shops, for use by whites only. At 10, I wasn’t aware of any of that.) The main street was paved, but because of the sun, there was a wooden canopy over the sidewalk, supported by posts. It looked a lot like the main streets in those beloved cowboy movies. Most of the stores had signs in front of them that said DuPlessis se Winkel and Smith se Winkel and so on – in each case, an English or Afrikaans surname followed by se Winkel.

During our brief stay in the US, I had forgotten whatever Afrikaans I had known before, so I deduced that se meant and and that Winkel was the name of some powerful rancher with a mighty big spread just outside town who had forced all these honest but cowardly shop owners to fork over a 50% ownership in their shops. All that was needed was for a hero on a white horse to ride into town and set everything right. All I had to do was be there when that happened.

And then I started learning Afrikaans and discovered that se is a possessive, um, something or other (preposition?), and Winkel means shop, and all those signs just meant So and So’s Shop. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was.


Daniel Dvorkin said...

Winkel's still there, you know. Still running things. And the good (but cowardly) folks of Rustenburg are still hoping that one day, that little boy will come back, all grown up, to set them free.

David said...

In a white Camry, instead of on a white horse. :)

TGirsch said...

I'd say yes, a preposition. Translating roughly to "of," like "de" in Spanish. (e.g., Casa de Tomás)

David said...

That makes sense.

It's too bad I wasn't interested in such details when I was a kid. I don't even have any Afrikaans grammar books from my school days, just one English-Afrikaans dictionary designed for school use. It might have some grammar summaries in it.