The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the current health crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored….
The dictionary defines this as “torn to pieces by a mob, as that great statesman John de Wit was in Holland, anno 1672”.
This story has recirculated in recent months and years and the above meme was shared widely on-line. Johan de Witt was the Grand Pensionary of the Dutch Republic between 30 July 1653 and 4 August 1672 and, in effect, he was indeed their Prime Minister. The Dutch had experienced a bad year in terms of international diplomacy and worsening relations with the UK and France meant that the Prime Minister found himself in a weak position. A slightly rigged court case was set up by William of Orange and his supporters, which meant that de Witt was imprisoned and sentenced to exile.
With the local population upset and ready to attack, De Witt and his brother were assassinated by the mob and their bodies were mutilated and hung up. Their livers were cut out and were then roasted and eaten by some members of the mob, with some suggestion that other parts of their bodies were eaten. So, unbelievably, the story which has circulated on the Internet is effectively true. The word ‘dewitted’ is still used to describe a lynching but, fortunately, most countries have a more democratic system of governance today.