‘Mobili-TIJD’ or ‘MOB-ility’? Um… what was that?

Expats come and go. They don’t integrate, don’t learn Dutch. But they do live in our houses. Oh yeah… And, they’re arrogant. An anthology of what you might hear at a birthday party. As you may have sensed: this isn’t the whole truth of the matter. If it were, your average expat would strongly resemble your Uncle Bob.

Ready for a quick Dutch lesson? There’s a rule for words that end with the sound ‘tight’, like the Dutch word for mobility: mobiliteit. The rule goes like this: If the meaning of the word itself has nothing to do with ‘time’ (Dutch: tijd), the ending is spelled ‘-teit’ rather than ‘-tijd’. Got it? Confusing, isn’t it?

As a language purist (it’s no accident that I’m Flemish) I do have a bit of trouble with that in the case of the word ‘mobility’. As far as I’m concerned, ‘mobility’ has everything to do with time. The word breathes movement, which essentially always involves a time factor. You’re travelling from point A to point B, which takes a certain amount of time. You can’t be in two places at the same time. So in Dutch, it also could have very easily been spelled mobili-TIJD instead of mobili-TEIT.

There have already been several instances where the Dutch term mobilitijd has been used. There is a company that goes by that name, a photo report has been given this as its title, an MBO Council conference took place under this banner. But as a result, a lot of people trying to master the Dutch language may encounter this word for the first time and hear and write mobilitijd.

Mobility in the context of work mobility is, at its core, also the movement of a person who is part of the workforce, moving from one work experience to another. When it comes to expats, the entire family often gets uprooted in this movement, spending time on a different corner of the world from their native soil. Extreme mobili-tijd, you might say.

Anyway, I don’t want to dwell on it, but that certainly struck me. It can be fun to take a closer look at words every once in a while and come up with different meaning by changing the syllable stressed, for instance. This is possible with the word mobility, too.

I also see MOB-ility.

In English, the informal meaning of ‘a mob’ is a large group of people. Which brings us back to the masses of expats who move to our region to work, and more importantly, to live. Movement and time.

But of course we also know another common connotation, ‘the mob’, which is slightly less flattering: a group with a connection to gangsters and the mafia. However, I prefer to think of the term as a group of people you like belonging to: your ‘mob’, your ‘gang’, your ‘peeps’, your ‘crew’. And you would follow them wherever they go, right? Mobility then takes on another meaning. It’s a kind of loyalty to a group of people you like and want to be part of.

And my ‘mob’, I hear you thinking … my Aunt Hetty and Uncle Harry the prince. Well, the prince mob stays fairly close to home. Mobility is not a core concept in our family. Apart from my aunt and uncle, I’m pretty much the only one who has put mobility into practice. And so that’s what brought me to the Netherlands. No, when I think of what ‘mob’ has to do with Aunt Hetty and Uncle Harry, I mostly hear him calling out to her. ‘Come mopsy, let’s go…!’ The pronunciation is similar, but the meaning is very different.

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