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Oer- is a category-neutral Germanic prefix. It attaches to nouns producing nouns like oertaal original language and to adjectives producing adjectives like oervervelend utterly boring. The general meaning when used with nouns is original, primitive, with adjectives it means a high degree of.


Two meanings can be distinguished for oer- /ur/ ((De Haas and Trommelen 1993), (Haeseryn et al. 1997)): the meaning is original, primitive in nouns like oermens primitive man, protohuman, oertoestand original situation and oerinstinct basic instinct, whereas the prefix denotes a high degree in adjectives like oervervelend utterly boring and oerstom extremely stupid. In all cases, the semantics is compositional and monotonous: derivations with oer- denote a subset of the reference of the base word.

  1. Nominal oer- attaches productively to Germanic and incidentally to foreign nouns (oersymbool original symbol, oermythe protomyth).
  2. Adjectival oer- attaches productively to Germanic adjectives and incidentally to foreign bases (oerkomisch extremely comical, oertraditioneel utterly traditional). The connotation is neutral: the affix can be combined with positive (oergezellig extremely cosy) and negative (oerstom utterly stupid) bases.

Prefixes like oer- are independent phonological words: in nouns with oer-, the stress is on the prefix, whereas in adjectives, stress is not fixed, but the prefix carries at least a secondary accent. Syllabification respects the morphological boundary: oer.oud.

Morphological potential: adjectives with oer- have no comparative or superlative; nominalization by means of the suffix -heid is perhaps possible (the internet has a.o. oerdomheid [[oer(Aff)dom(A)](A)heid(Aff)](N) the property of being extremely stupid). Nouns with with oer- can have a plural and a diminutive, and can be basis for compounds like oertijdjungle [[[oer](Aff)[tijd](N)](N)[jungle](N)](N) the jungle of prehistory. Forms like oerconservatief extreme(ly) conservative and oergermaans proto-germanic are hard to characterize as they can be both noun and adjective, while the corresponding adjective or noun might be derived by the other type of oer- prefixation or by conversion from the noun or adjective.

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The first oer- formations entered the language at the end of the 19th Century as direct loans from German (Etymologiebank). In the Dutch Spoken Corpus (CGN) we found the nouns (spelling not corrected): oer-aubergine original egg plant, oer-Kerstmis original Christmas, oeraccordeon, oerangst original fear, oerbos original forest jungle, oerbrood original bread, oercel proto-cell, oereland prehistoric elk, oergeluid primitive sound, oergeur primitive odour, oergod primitive god, oergraan Farmer's bread, oerklank primitive sound, oerknal primitive bang Big Bang, oerkracht primal force, oerkreet archetypical cry, oerkuifje original Tintin, oerlabyrint primitive labyrinth, oermens primitve man, proto-human, oermythe proto-myth, oerplaats original location, oerpraat proto-language, oerritme primal rhythm, oerrund prehistoric cow, Aurochs, oerslak prehistoric snail, oerstaat primitive state, oersymbool original symbol, oertaal proto-language, oertijd prehistory, oertijdjungle prehistory's jungle, oertomaatje primitive tomato, oervader proto-father, oerverhaal proto-story, oerversie first version, oerwaarheid primordial truth, oerwoud jungle, oerzee proto-sea, and the adjectives oer-Hollands very Dutch, oer-Nederlands typically Dutch, oerconservatief extremely conservative, oerdegelijk extremely solid, oergeestig extremely funny, oerhollands very Dutch, oerkomisch extremely funny, oerlelijk extremely ugly, oeroud extremely old, oersaai dead boring, oerstom extremely stupid, oertraditioneel very traditional, oervervelend extremely boring, oervlaams proto-Flemish, that is, more nouns than adjectives. It appears that oerwoud jungle is fully lexicalized and is no longer recognized as a derivation.

With adjectives, the prefix oer- competes with prefixes like aarts-, hyper-, super- and ultra- that have comparable meanings, as well as with other ways of amplification: adverbial (buitengewoon vervelend extremely boring), constructional (zo geestig mogelijk as funny as possible), etc.

Occasionally, we find debonding: the prefix develops a new usage as an independent adjective, as in dit is heel erg oer this is very very oer this is very authentic.

  • Haas, Wim de & Trommelen, Mieke1993Morfologisch handboek van het Nederlands. Een overzicht van de woordvormingSDU Uitgeverij
  • Haeseryn, Walter, Romijn, Kirsten, Geerts, Guido, Rooij, Jaap de & Toorn, Maarten C. van den1997Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunstGroningenNijhoff