The unwanted connotation of ‘homosexual’
Until the late 1940s, an inhabitant of Utrecht was usually called Utrechtenaar and sometimes Utrechter. From 1947 that suddenly changed and Utrechter became the rule and Utrechtenaar the exception. The second meaning of Utrechtenaar was ‘homosexual’, which is why some people preferred to ban that word.
At various times in history, Utrecht has been associated with sex between men. During the months of negotiations that led to the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), the city was flooded with foreign diplomats and their entourage. Many people were annoyed by their ostentation and exuberant drinking, eating and partying. In addition, some would have surrendered to ‘dirty sodomy’ (vuyle sodomie). The accusation that homosexuality is imported by foreigners is timeless.
Utrecht was much more strongly associated with ‘unnatural’ practices during the sodomite persecutions in 1730 and subsequent years. They started after men were caught having sex with each other in the Egmond Chapel in the tower of the Utrecht cathedral (Domtoren) and a national network of sodomites was exposed.
It came to light that men visited each other and made love not only there but also in the cloister of the cathedral (Dom) and between the ruins of the collapsed nave of that church.
Van achter de Dom
Although there is no certainty about this, it is probably because of the sodomy trials that the expressions Utrechtenaar, he is from Utrecht, a resident of Utrecht wears his trousers backwards and he is from behind the cathedral (hij is van achter de Dom) meaning ‘he is sodomite’ or from the early 20th century ‘he is homosexual’.
Until well into the last century, ‘Utrechtenaar’ was also the common designation for ‘inhabitant of Utrecht’ and there were probably few people who knew the connotation. That changed around 1947 when the editors of the local newspaper, Utrechtsch Nieuwsblad, decided to ban ‘Utrechtenaar’ because of the second meaning ‘homosexual’. The initiative for this probably came from editor-in-chief H.M. Koemans, who was previously banned from holding a journalistic position for six months because of his attitude during the Second World War.
Not only in the newspaper columns, but also increasingly in everyday language, ‘Utrechter’ became the common word to indicate a resident of Utrecht. Some connoisseurs of the local vernacular (Vollekstaol) still stick to ‘Ut[e]rechtenaor’, while Utrecht gay men like to use the word as a nickname.
The city language of Utrecht has its own words for male homosexuals: Konteeelerd, Wet, Ouwerijner (after an affair in Oudenrijn in the 1930s) and He komp venâchter Maorsse en ze vriend from Moarsberrege (he is from Maarssen and his friend from Maarsbergen) an allusion to ass. Typical Utrecht words for lesbian women or other members of the LGBTI+ community do not seem to exist.
Maurice van Lieshout