Whirling Dustsuckers

One of the Dutch words I learnt recently is stofzuiger [stɔfsœyɣər], or literally “dustsucker”. In English you might call it a vacuum, vacuum cleaner, hoover or even a dyson.

Stofzuiger comes from stof (dust) and zuigen (to suck, hoover, be bad at).

When I first learnt this word, I thought that stof might be related to stuff in English, so a Dutch vacuum cleaner would be a “stuffsucker”. However, stof is in fact two words in Dutch that have different meanings and come from different roots.

Stof as in dust comes from the Proto-Germanic *stubą, *stubjuz (dust), from the Proto-Indo-European *dʰeubʰ- (to whisk, smoke, obscure), from *dʰew- (to whirl, waft, stink, shake; steam, haze, smoke) [source].

Related words include:

  • huisstof = household dust
  • stofdoek = duster, dust cloth
  • stoffen = to dust, to remove dust from
  • stoffig = dusty
  • stofvrij = dustfree
  • stofwolk = dust cloud
  • stofzuigen = to vacuum / hoover
  • stofzuigerslang = vacuum cleaner hose (“dust-sucker-snake”)

The other stof means matter, material, substance, fabric or curriculum. It comes from the Middle Dutch stoffe, from the Old French estophe / estoffe, from estoffer (to decorate, garnish), from Old High German stoffōn (to stop, halt, stuff, insert), from the Proto-West Germanic *stuppōn (to cram, plug, stuff). The English word stuff comes from the same root.

Related words include:

  • afvalstof = waste product (“waste-stuff”)
  • brandstof = fuel (“burning-stuff”)
  • delfstof = mineral (“excavated-stuff”)
  • kleurstof = dye, colourant (“colour-stuff”)
  • koolstof = coal (“coal stuff”)
  • stikstof = nitrogen (“suffocating-stuff”)
  • voedingstof = nutrient (“food-stuff”)
  • waterstof = hydrogen (“water-stuff”)
  • zuurstof = oxygen (“sour-stuff”)

Are there interesting names for vacuum cleaners in other languages?

Henri stofzuiger

7 thoughts on “Whirling Dustsuckers

  1. Since I enjoy seeing cognates, I would use ‘delve-stuff’ instead of ‘excavate-stuff’. Though I might be over-estimating how well-known the English word ‘delve’ is.

  2. In Swedish, we say ‘dammsugare’ for vacuum cleaner.
    This is exactly the same as the first stof + zuiger, as given above
    (‘damm’ means ‘dust’, and ‘sugare’ means ‘one who sucks up’).

    We also have the second meaning of stof, only spelling it ‘stoff’.

  3. The two are kept apart in German as Staub “dust” vs. Stoff “fabric, substance”. And so, “vacuum cleaner” is Staubsauger.

    On the etymology, may I draw your attention to this short paper? It doesn’t mention dust, but concerns the verb Dutch stuiven, German stieben, which in German means “to dash away”, often in many different directions as dust does when you blow on it. The PIE root would then be *tseubʰ-.

  4. “Koolstof” is more specifically carbon, the chemical element, not coal. Coal is “kolen”.

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