wild hamster with full cheeks

Wild hamster with full cheeks. Photograph © Julian Rad. Reproduced with permission.

A while ago, my mother asked me in a text message if it was true that Australians were hoarding toilet paper. My mother writes to me in Dutch, so she called it hamsteren.

The Dutch verb hamsteren was borrowed from German during rationing in 1917. In German, the verb hamstern was derived from — you guessed it — the noun Hamster, for the cute little rodent that is known to store food in its cheek pouches. Both Dutch and English had already borrowed the noun hamster from German, respectively in c. 1599 and c. 1607. Unlike English, Dutch has been creative with this noun and turned it into hamsteraar for ‘hoarder’ and hamsterwoede (literally, ‘hamster fury’) for ‘hoarding frenzy’. Unlike English and Dutch, which use hoarding and hamsteren both for the actual act of hoarding and for the act of buying things that are then hoarded, German seems to use hamstern for the former and Hamsterkäufe machen (literally, ‘making purchases for hoarding’) for the latter.

English-speaking media refer to the current hoarding frenzy as ‘stockpiling’. Not very poetic. Wish they would use ‘squirrelling’ …