I’m reading Geert Mak’s Amsterdam (which has nice detailed maps of the city as it was c. 1300, 1575, 1650, and 1980—there’s nothing I like better than a good historical city map), and I ran across the following passage (on p. 78):

For a good deal of the fifteenth century the rest of the Low Countries was plagued by a curious civil war, or rather a war between rival nobles and their adherents, the so-called “Hook and Cod Wars”. Amsterdam tried—successfully, as it turned out—not to get involved in this dispute by simply forbidding its citizens to talk about it. By an order of 26 December 1481, it was officially forbidden for anyone to say: “Thou art a hook” or “Thou art a cod”.

The war itself is curious enough (those interested in finding out more about it can do so here; you can either scroll down to 1349 or do a Find search on “cods”), but the fact that Amsterdam stayed out of it by forbidding people to talk about it is quite amazing. You won’t find a bigger believer in free speech than languagehat, but… it gives to think, as the ponderously facetious used to say.


  1. Yes, the censorship issue is thorny, but this story also suggests that there’s something to the idea that humans need to name things in order to make them real; that if you cannot give voice to some thought, that thought might not be able to manifest itself in your mind or your actions; that speech could be itself a form of action, and action could in turn be a form of thinking, of speaking.

  2. PlasticPaddy says

    If anyone is interested in the names hook and cod, Dutch Wikipedia has this explanation:

    Er zijn meerdere suggesties voor het ontstaan van de namen. De Kabeljauwen werden zo genoemd, omdat het wapen van het geslacht Beieren aan de schubben van een vis doet denken. Een andere verklaring was dat kabeljauwen naarmate ze groter worden steeds meer gaan eten, waardoor ze nog weer groter en sterker worden en weer meer gaan eten. De tegenstanders van graaf Willem V kregen de naam Hoeken, omdat met een Hoek (=Haak) kabeljauwen gevangen konden worden.

    That is, the van Beieren coat of arms is reminiscent of fish scales, hence (?) cod or because (?) cod grow more, feed more, grow more, feed more…Hooks are so-named because they catch cod when they are spelt Haak instead of Hoek, but I suppose modern Haak was borrowed or spawned from Hoek, which of course still exists, but not in the meaning fish hook.

  3. David Marjanović says

    because (?)

    “Another explanation was that”…

  4. PlasticPaddy says

    ? because I find both explanations rather unhelpful. I think because all this was before printing, these groupings depended on visual identification and visual, not written propaganda. So we had even after printing roundheads vs. cavaliers or what Büchner in Dantons Tod called “ohnehosen” (fr sans culottes) vs. aristocrats. Maybe the cods had some fish standard or met in a pub with a fish sign and the hooks decided to make their standard a hook.

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