A monumental mistake

A monument is a structure erected in remembrance of a person or event. They’re often on a grand scale, which is why monumental has simply come to mean “extremely large”. Neither has anything to do with national heritage.

So you’re getting two faux-amis for the price of one here: you need to be careful with both the Dutch words monument and monumentaal.

  • a building of historic and architectural value that is subject to e.g. different planning regulations is a listed building (the common term in the UK) or heritage building
  • an object that is of specific, historic importance to a country can be a national monument, a concept that in EN-US goes as far as covering designated wildlife parks and nature areas
  • and you also get cultural heritage and national heritage sites that are definitely not monuments (Dutch “erfgoed”)
  • note that the name of a monument in English will usually refer to the person or event being commemorated

The use of monument to refer generically to any ancient building is incidentally valid (though less common in EN-US. My Merriam-Webster doesn’t give it; similarly monumental as the associated adjective). But falling out of use and best avoided, I’d say.

Prevalence: low. A word that’s more widespread in English. Just not quite meaning the same.
Frequency: very high. Dutch writers aren’t generally aware of the difference and blithely use the valse vriend every time.
Native: no. Except for texts (often older writing) referring to very old buildings, e.g. from Antiquity.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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