We owe it to the socialists that the cesspool can be opened in Dutch. About a hundred years ago, the expression ‘open the cesspool’ first appeared in print. That happened in magazines like The Free Socialist and The stand (‘social-democratic weekly’). “The cesspool is opening in India too,” wrote the last newspaper in 1924, in an article about scandals in the army administration.
At that time, liberal and Christian newspapers only reported real cesspools: underground masonry pits where human excrement was stored. Every now and then someone fell in, because in cities those cesspools were also under houses. For example, a woman in Zaltbommel, “accompanied by two beds, a couple of blankets and a chair,” according to the Rotterdamsche Courant. Fortunately, the woman was rescued.
Within a few decades, almost all houses would be connected to the sewage system and these kinds of reports disappeared from the newspaper. Until 2017 I lived in a house in the center of Leiden, which turned out to be a real cesspool. Anyone who has experienced that will never want a cesspool to open again.
Also in the literal sense, the word cesspool is surprisingly young: we only find it in the 19th century. The old word bear for ‘excrement’ had long since fallen into disuse. But maybe one has to do with the other: it was only then that a word like cesspool became suitable for use in business texts, such as in newspaper reports. Even now you will not easily find a message that speaks of a shit house.
Thus, the metaphorical cesspool only came into use after the actual cesspools and the foul-smelling vapors that spewed from them had more or less disappeared from the cities. That the socialists were the first to use it in the newspaper – it must have been passed down in the oral language for some time – is probably no coincidence. They were the loudest ones to open social cesspools. The first writers to use the word were, now largely forgotten, socially critical authors such as Israël Querido (1862-1932) and Maurits Dekker (1896-1962). “I cleaned his bed with the broom and every morning when I lifted the covers it was like taking the lid off a cesspool,” wrote the latter. People of all political affiliations are now using the metaphor and it is questionable whether anyone is still imagining something concrete with it.
With the revelations of the sexual abuse of power at The Voice the cesspool is everywhere again. Various media reported that „Hilversum held its breath now the cesspool of The Voice was open.” That it is better to keep your nose shut, probably few people have thought of that.
#Hold #breath #close #nose