Scientifically, it’s a term for an internal part of the body protruding where it shouldn’t. In everyday speech, however, Dutch uses it for a back problem and English for an abdominal one.

A nice, straightforward valse vriend for you today: a word that means something completely different in Dutch and English.

  • in Dutch, a hernia is a disc in your spine getting squished and distorted, the painful condition known in everyday English as a slipped disc (though it hasn’t really slipped at all).
  • In English, a hernia is when the parts of the instestines get stuck through a weakened lower abdominal wall. Also very nasty, but known in everyday Dutch as a liesbreuk.

In both cases, the medical terminology is clearer – a herniated disc and an inguinal hernia respectively.

Prevalence: low. Not a common topic of conversation, except among hypochondriacs perhaps.
Frequency: high. Outside the medical world, few people would get this one right. Unless they’ve had a friend or acquaintance who’s suffered one.
Native: no. Confused me thoroughly the first time I came across it.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

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

3 thoughts on “Hernia

  1. voor mij als arts kan een hernia beide zijn. hernia cervicalis, lumbalis, L5-S1, nekhernia, rughernia zitten in de rug, hernia inguinalis, spigeli, umbilicalis, cicatricialis in de buikwand. Maar tegen patienten zou ik het in het tweede geval eerder over een liesbreuk, navelbreuk, littekenbreuk hebben.


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