Political gat kruiping

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In "Should Africa speak Mandarin?" (ZimDaily [8/31/15]), the phrase "political gat kruiping" occurs twice.  Upon first occurrence, "gat kruiping" is defined as "brown nosing".  Since this is in the context of "introducing Mandarin in schools next year to pupils between the grades 4 and 12", I was curious about the nuances and form of "gat kruiping".

Inasmuch as the report is primarily about South Africa and "gat kruiping" has an Afrikaans look to it, I tried to figure out its literal meaning.

The first part, "gat" seems fairly straightforward, "eye; hole".  The implications of the stem of the second part,"kruip" are clear:  "crawl; creep; cringe; crouch; glide; grovel; kowtow".  But how do they fit together, and what is the ending -ing doing there?

I do not know Afrikaans, but I had a suspicion that the -ing of kruiping is from English.  On p. 280 of Bruce C. Donaldson, A Grammar of Afrikaans, we find the nominal use of infinitives (8.16.2), such that "Where the gerund in '-ing' functions as a noun in English, Afrikaans uses the infinitive…".  Since even Mandarin and Korean have picked up the English -ing ending, it would not be surprising if Afrikaans did too, especially when an Afrikaans expression is being used in an English sentence.

Focusing on "gat kruip", I soon noticed that it can also appear as "kruip gat", in this injunction to "keep calm and kruip gat", which appears on posters, mugs, T-shirts, hoodies, key chains, and what not.

Now I was beginning to get really intrigued by how "eye / hole creeping" could amount to brown nosing, and how that would be a good thing to do while you're keeping calm.

hy kruip gat
he is crawling
Putting on a facade to try [to] impress someone powerful.

This looks as though it has been bowdlerized in English, since I cannot see how "gat" is a part of the translation.

I had an intuition that "gat" ("eye / hole") must be referring to the anus, and that "kruip" would signify "groveling", but I needed to prove that this was the correct interpretation.  Finally, I found the excellent A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles, which spells it all out clearly, with many citations arranged chronologically:

gat-creeper, gat-kruiper /-ˌkrœipə(r)/ [Afk., kruiper creeper, fr. kruip to creep], ‘ass-creeper’, sycophant, toady; cf. schloep n.; so gatkruip v., to be obsequious, to attempt to ingratiate oneself;

So now we know precisely what "gat kruiping" means, and it seems like fairly strong (well, vulgar) language.

Addressing a group of leaders from four universities in the Kwazulu Natal province last week, University of the Free State Vice Chancellor and Rector Professor Jonathan Jansen declared that there was no point in introducing Mandarin when local languages were being neglected:

“I don’t see the need for introducing Mandarin when we can’t seem to teach English, Afrikaans and Zulu properly. Bringing Mandarin is political gat kruiping. We need a long-term plan to get out of this mess. We should be thinking like Singapore who look 20 years ahead we only see tomorrow…”.

The introduction of Mandarin in African countries is done mainly through Confucius Institutes, nearly fifty of which have been established in Africa.  Is this a good thing?  It depends upon how you view the extension of Chinese soft power and what you make of the penetration of China's political and economic muscle across the continent.

[h.t. Marshall Sahlins]


  1. Eugene van der Pijll said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 9:32 am

    I don't think the -ing ending originates in English. It's a standard way of turning verbs into nouns meaning "the act of Xing" in Dutch, e.g. "berekenen", to compute; "berekening", computation. This is not the same as the gerund (which would be "berekenend(e)" in this case), which is only used nominally in the meaning "the one who X's".

    In Dutch, the verb "kruipen" does not have a corresponding noun "kruiping" (we would use the infinitive "het kruipen"). It is possible that the -ing form is used more often in Afrikaans because of the influence of English.

    The meaning of the Afrikaans expression was clear enough to this Dutch speaker, in context.

  2. Marinus Ferreira said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 10:22 am

    I'm an Afrikaans native speaker, and you've got it pretty much spot on: '-ing' is an artefact of the phrase being put into an English sentence (the Afrikaans gerund would either be 'gat-kruipery' or just 'gat kruip'), 'gat' here refers to the rectum, and the phrase is a little vulgar, though mildly so. The idioms referring to the rectum (and there are a few) aren't that big a deal, but it's surprising to hear it used in a formal setting such as a university vice-chancellor's comments on educational policy (Prof. Jansen is known for not shying away from controversy, though).

    -ing endings can serve in the gerund, just as in Eugene's Dutch examples ('berekening' is the same in Afrikaans, down to the spelling), but not in this case. This case is more typical of the way Afrikaans phrases occur in South African English, as in when somebody reports 'we were busy braai-ing' (in Afrikaans: 'ons was besig om te braai/ met die gebraaiery).

  3. Keith said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 10:32 am

    I know very little Dutch and even less Afrikaans, but I've encountered nouns such as "rekening" for a bill, an invoice, cognate of the English "reckoning", derived from the verb "rekenen", almost identical to Eugene's example.

    And German also has nouns ending in "-ung", such as "Prüfung" for a test, cognate of the English "proving", derived from the verb "prüfen".

  4. Jeroen Mostert said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 11:32 am

    "Gatkruiper" would be understood in Dutch, but "holkruiper" has more currency — although both are by no means common. "Hielenlikker" is the common Dutch word for sycophant (though licking heels is not as amusingly vulgar).

    I disagree with Eugene that the "-ing" ending is more likely from Dutch, in particular since, as he points out, you couldn't form "*kruiping" in Dutch the same way you can form "berekening" and the context is English. The Dutch "-ing" is not consistently productive for nouning verbs: there is "berekening", "verdoving" and "prediking" (from "berekenen" (compute), "verdoven" (anesthetize) and "prediken" (preach), respectively) but not "*renning", "*kruiping", "*hielenlikking". Since apparently "gat kruiping" here means "the act of brown nosing", and not "a particular act of brown nosing", my money would be on the speaker simply conjugating "gat kruip" as if it were an English verb with an unusual form.

    I'm still speculating, though; actual speakers of Afrikaans should be able to clear this up.

  5. Pieter Kriel said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 12:11 pm

    Marinus Ferreira is entirely right.

    There are plenty of good gat-words. One that has made its way into SA English is gatvol, as in "I'm gatvol" – "I've had it up to here". Literally "I'm arse-ful". Impolite version of "keelvol", ie "throatful", which may be familiar to the Dutch commenters.

  6. Jeroen Mostert said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

    Addendum: I'm almost but not entirely sure that Marinus' comment wasn't visible when I posted mine. :-)

    Veering off topic: it just occurred to me that the Dutch equivalent of "nouning" is "verzelfstandignaamwoorden" (a nice Scrabble word that you won't find in any dictionary), from "ver-" + "zelfstandig naamwoord" + "-en", and the result of this process would be "verzelfstandignaamwoording". However, "-ing" is not being used on its own here; note that "berekening" is also a compound (of "be-" + "rekenen" + "-ing"), as is "ver-" + "doven" + "-ing". Someone who's actually studied Dutch linguistics can probably explain how this works.

  7. David L. Gold said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 7:45 pm

    The first step in etymological research is determining the synchronic status of the item under consideration.

    That step necessarily precedes determining its diachronic status, that is, its etymology.

    Victor Mair was on the right track when he turned to A Dictionary of South African English on Historical Principles because English is the direction in which an attempt to determine the synchronic status of the last two words in the phrase "political gat kruiping" should go.

    Marinus Ferreira got the discussion back on the right track when he wrote "'-ing' is an artefact of the phrase being put into an ENGLISH sentence" (emphasis mine), that is, "political gat kruiping" is synchronically English (and "political " and "-ing" are the universal English adjective and universal English verb ending so spelled).

    The second stage in etymological research, at least in this case, is deciding which form of the item under consideration should be examined diachronically, that is, when we finally proceed to the etymological investigation.

    Since the synchronic status of "political" is obvious and the synchronic status of "-ing" is now clear (Afrikaans and Dutch are so far irrelevant), we are left with "gat kruip," which is the infinitive form of a regular South African English verb (gatkruip, gatkruips, gatkruiped, gatkruiping).

    In the English phrase quoted by Victor Mair. the English present participle (gatkruiping) is used as an English verbal noun (gatkruiping), just as countless other English present participles may be so used ("Translating the text was instructive" and so on).

    Having taken the full first step by determining that "gatkruip" is an English verb, one may then proceed to diachromy.

    First, one minor correction: the Afrikaanse Woordelys en Spelreëls ('Afrikaans Word List and Spelling Rules') requires solid spelling for the Afrikaans words "gatkruipery" and "gatkruip."

    Since Afrikaans has the verb "gatkruip" 'brownnose, suck up', one might be tempted to come to an immediate conclusion: "The English word 'gatkruip' doesn't look English. It looks Afrikaans. Afrikaans has a verb 'gatkruip.' It looks Afrikaans. Therefore, the English word comes from the Afrikaans one."

    Looks can be deceiving. The study of South African English influence on Afrikaans and of Afrikaans influence on South African English is full of pitfalls (a few are mentioned in "On the Fourth Edition of A Dictionary of South African English," in Lexikos, vol. 2, 1992, and "Broadening the Perspectives of South African English and Afrikaans Research," in Lexikos, vol. 3, 1993).

    (I wish I could remember a specific crux that is relevant here: the author of a certain dictionary of South African English says that South African English word X comes from Afrikaans word Y and the author of a certain dictionary of Afrikaans says that Afrikaans word Y comes from South African English word X.)

    It is easy to err here: if you want to claim that South African English gatkruip comes from Afrikaans gatkruip, you have to prove, inter alia, that Afrikaans "gatkruip" does not come at all from South African English "gatkruip."

    And even if you so prove, the etymological investigation has not ended (note "inter alia"), because there is at least one other possibility (3.C):

    1. South African English "gatkruip'" could be a back-formation from the South African English agentive noun "gatkruiper" (in the same way that the American English verb "bar-crawl" and the British English verb "pub-crawl" were back-formed from the American English agentive noun "bar-crawler" and the British English agentive noun "pub-crawler" respectively; the English verb "back-form" itself was back-formed from the English noun "back-formation").

    One would have to see the dates of earliest known uses:

    if South African English "gatkruip" is attested significantly earlier than Afrikaans "gatkruip" is, the latter is likely to come from the former, but even dates of earliest known uses may be deceiving because of gaps in the citational evidence:

    Afrikaans "gatkruip" could, in theory, be older than English "gatkruip" but because of a gap in the Afrikaans citational evidence and the absence of a gap in the English citational evidence, the English word could LOOK older than the Afrikaans one.

    My guesses are:

    1. The South African English verb "gatkruip" was back-formed from the South African English agentive noun "gatkruiper."

    2. The South African English agentive noun "gatkruiper" comes from the Afrikaans agentive noun "gatkruiper."

    3. One of these possibilities is right for Afrikaans verb "gatkruip":

    3.A. It was back-formed from the Afrikaans agentive noun "gatkruiper."

    3.B. The Afrikaans verb "gatkruip" comes from South African English verb "gatkruip."

    3.C. Both 3.A and 3.B are right. That is, when languages are in on-going contact, especially in on-going close contact, as is the case of South African English and Afrikaans, it is not excluded, and may in fact be probable, that certain items arise in more ways than one.

    Thus, the fact that a certain speaker of Afrikaans may have acquired the Afrikaans verb "gatkruip" as in 3.A. does not prevent another speaker of Afrikaans from acquiring it as in 3.B.

    4. Afrikaans "gatkruiper' was formed in Afrikaans: Afrikaans "gat" + Afrikaans "kruiper."

    5. Afrikaans "gat" comes from Dutch "gat" (that is obvious, disputed by nobody, not a guess).

    6. Afrikaans "kruiper" may come entirely from Dutch "kruiper" or it may in part come from that Dutch word and in part be an Afrikaans formation (Afrikaans verb "kruip" + Afrikaans agentive suffix "-er").

  8. David L. Gold said,

    September 2, 2015 @ 8:05 pm

    Regarding my comment, my attention span began to peter out after "It is easy to err here."

    For one thing, the first paragraph numbered "1." is not followed by at least a paragraph numbered "2."

    From that paragraph (including it) to the phrase "My guesses are:" (excluding it), the text needs to be rewritten.

    After a break for supper, I was able to draft the guesses without now seeing a need to rewrite them.

    It would be good if you allowed editing after one clicks "Submit Comment."

  9. K Chang said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 2:19 am

    Wonder if the Confucious Institutes are the Chinese version of copying the Madrassas, albeit, more secular?

  10. John Walden said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 3:06 am

    You could ask if Confucius Institutes can be so very different from the Goethe Institut (Sprache. Kultur. Deutschland), the Alliance Francaise (Teaching French to a wide international public-Promoting French and Francophone cultures-Promoting dialogue and exchange between cultures) the British Council ( connecting millions of people with the United Kingdom through programmes and services in the English language, the Arts, Education and Society) the Instituto de Cervantes (promote the education, the study and the use of Spanish universally as a second language, to support the methods and activities that would help the process of Spanish language education, and to contribute to the advancement of the Spanish and Hispanic American cultures throughout non-Spanish-speaking countries).

    None of them have exactly swept all before them, have they?

  11. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 7:22 am

    The main difference between the Confucius Institutes and the culture and language institutes of other countries mentioned by John Walden is that the CIs normally insist on being housed on the campuses of the colleges and universities with which they are affiliated and having their instructors and the courses they offer integrated with the curriculum of the host colleges and universities to varying degrees. There is also the problem of their interference with the presentation of sensitive issues on campus (Dalai Lama, Taiwan, Uyghurs, Falun Gong, etc.). There are many other questions surrounding the CIs, such as hiring practices.

    The problems are exactingly described in Confucius Institutes: Academic Malware (Prickly Paradigm Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press, 2015) by Marshall Sahlins, who was instrumental in having the CI at the University of Chicago removed from the campus.



  12. shubert said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 10:45 am

    Yes, CI is criticized both inside China and abroad.

  13. Neil Dolinger said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

    If there is any English influence on this phrase, it's probably not from AmE. From the Urban Dictionary:

    "That hater talked mad trash about me, so I pulled out my gat and busted a few hollow tips up in his fat ass"

  14. Bloix said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 3:41 pm

    "Gat" has meant "gun" for a hundred years. I first encountered it in what IMHO is the greatest novel of the Great Depression, "Waiting for Nothing," by Tom Kromer.


    (This is a great book for hobo slang, BTW.)

    Humphrey Bogart uses "gat" in The Big Sleep: "You know, you're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail."

  15. Vance Koven said,

    September 3, 2015 @ 4:54 pm

    "Gat" the gun, of course, from Gatling, inventor of the circular machine gun (pat. 1862).

  16. John Walden said,

    September 4, 2015 @ 1:53 am

    Victor Mair. Thanks for that information. Confucius Institutes certainly don't seem to be variations on the theme of those other institutes.

  17. Ekes Gonini said,

    September 4, 2015 @ 3:22 am

    As a native English-speaking South African, I disagree with David L. Gold's assertion that "gatkruiper" is an English word in South Africa. (And I suppose I disagree with the inclusion of this word in the Dictionary of South African English.) I contend that the word would strike most SA English speakers as an Afrikaans word, even in contexts like the one quoted, where it has been given an English suffix.

    In this way it is unlike words such as "braai" (barbecue), which are integral parts of English in this country. No SA English speaker would ever use the word "barbecue", unless talking to an American. I've never heard someone use the word gatkruiper. "Schloep" (to suck up), though, is definitely a common word in SA English.

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