Origin and Use
Dating back to the 16th century, the word bef has had multiple meanings and also appears in the book Liber Vagatorum. It emerges from Bargoens, a Dutch dialect that was functioning as a secret code amongst the social underbelly of that time, thieves, criminals and travelling salesmen, thus, giving it quite a subversive origin. In Bargoens, bef is also the word used for vulva and is generally related to the female genitalia. Some have also linguistically connected beffen to the French word buffet. Not really that surprising if you think about it, the thematic connection is definitely there. Nowadays, bef is mainly used as slang for performing oral sex on a person with a vagina.
Grammatically speaking, beffen is a verb that translates to "lick pussy". It can be used like this: ik bef (I lick pussy), jij beft (you lick pussy), hij/ze beft, zij beffen, et cetera.
Now that you know what beffen is all about, you can add it to the list of your favourite uniquely Dutch words, right next to gezellig.
In Other Languages
It seems that the existence of one single word for licking pussy that is not literally just describing the act is actually a quite rare linguistic phenomenon, making bef a special word. Most languages have a word or phrase that is a literal spelling out of the act, some examples being lecher la chatte (French), Muschi lecken (German), choot chaatna (Urdu), γλειφομούνι (Greek), jilat memek (Indonesian), kinyal (Hungarian) to name some. What we can observe from this small sample list is that what commonly occurs in many languages is a linguistic verb+noun phrase formation of lick + pussy respectively. In this case, we have to praise the Dutch for their innovative linguistic spirit!
Language and Sexual Politics
Language is an integral part of how we communicate, experience and learn. It is a medium through which we can articulate our desires and feel seen. Having a specific word for something related to female pleasure can be seen as a gesture of amplifying visibility when it comes to female sexuality. It is a step towards moving beyond and breaking phallogocentric forms and structures. For some context, phallogocentrism, a combination of phallocentrism and logocentrism, is a philosophical concept coined by Jacques Derrida that refers to the privileging of masculinity in language, modes of thought and construction of meaning. We therefore need language that adequately represents the female experience with all its layerings and intricacies, language that defies patriarchal norms. Isn't bef a great place to start?
Now that your short sex language lesson is over, get ready to join us at Beftival to celebrate female pleasure in all its forms through loads of performances, installations, workshops, food and music.
Marc de Coster. Woordenboek van populaire uitdrukkingen, 1998.