BREUKELEN, THE NETHERLANDS — The Dutch influence on Brooklyn stretches through the annals of local history and is seen in street names, historical farmhouses and, more recently, the timeless art of proof-reading.
An antiquated spelling in the Dutch motto in the official seal of Brooklyn that went unnoticed since 1834 was finally righted with the help of a knowledgeable visitor from the ancestral sister city of Breukelen in the Netherlands.
As any of Brooklyn’s 2-1/2 million residents can tell you, the official motto is “Eendraght Mackt Maght” — or to the less fluent in Dutch, “Unity makes strength.” But since Brooklyn’s forefathers incorporated the city in 1834, their chosen saying was written in old Dutch in the State Capitol as four separate words — “Een Draght Mackt Maght” (see seal, right).
It appeared in every reproduction of the insignia until 2005.
“For generations, they used it in the logo of the city of Brooklyn, but apparently whatever workman did it made a boo-boo. They spelled the Dutch wrong,” said Borough President Markowitz. “We changed it a few years ago to reflect the proper Dutch.”
The old Dutch phraseology may actually have seemed correct in 1834 to descendants of Dutch colonists living in Brooklyn and other areas settled by Netherlanders. Isolated from linguistic developments in the old country, they spoke a version of the language that diverged from the modern evolution of the mother tongue, according Russell Shorto’s “The Island at the Center of the World.”
But now, the four-word motto appears like a typo to Dutch speakers.
Markowitz ordered the correction after an exchange with Bram Donkers, currently the project manager of Brooklyn Bridge Breukelen, a Dutch group forging ties between Kings County and the quaint town of 15,000 people.
“I said to Marty Markowitz, ‘The slogan in your flag is not right,’” said Donkers. “So, he changed it.”
Donkers took a measure of pride in successfully advocating that Markowitz update the motto. He told The Brooklyn Paper that he “played a major role” in the revision.
Other dignitaries and Dutch speakers noticed the goof before Donkers, Markowitz said, but the push towards the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage to the New World put the heat on Markowitz to make the official switcheroo.
Changing the Beep’s letterhead and printed materials was easy, but this historic spelling error showed up everywhere the seal was displayed — on flags, on proclamations and in the chambers of Borough Hall. As a result, “there are still a few things with the misspelling,” said Markowitz. Eliminating all of them, he said, would be prohibitively expensive.
A quick tour of Borough Hall showed the misprint emblazoned on gold-leaf seals in a hearing room, a rug in Markowitz’s executive office and on garbage pails. There are no plans to remove them.