Afrikaanse Vergelykings – Afrikaans Simile – Your Comprehensive & Fun Guide

so moeg soos 'n hond

We often use similes without realizing, when we desire to emphasize the meaning of an idea or an image. But similes allow us insight into a different culture, as you can notice from these Afrikaans similes and their English translations.

Ons gebruik gereeld vergelykings, somtyds sonder dat ons dit besef, om ‘n idee of beeld te versterk. Vergelykings gee ons ook insig in ander kulture, soos jy kan opmerk van herdie Afrikaanse vergelykings en hulle (direkte) Engelse vertalings.

so arm soos ‘n kerkmuis = as poor as a church mouse

so arm soos 'n kerkmuis = as poor as a church mouse

This simile is probably deriving from an older one, as hungry as a church mouse – illustrating how the Catholic and the Orthodox priests were careful not to mess the smallest crumb of the sacramental bread.

Die vergelyking het heelwaarskynlik sy oorsprong van ‘n ouer een, “so honger soos ‘n kerkmuis”, wat illustreer hoe versigtig die Katolieke en Ortodokse priesters was om nie die kleinste krummel van die heilige nagmaalbrood te mors nie.

so bitter soos gal = as bitter as bile

so bleek soos ‘n laken = as pale as a sheet

In English we would rather say as pale as death, as pale as a ghost, as white as a sheet)

so blind soos ‘n mol = as blind as a mole
so blou soos die hemel / die berge = as blue as the sky / as blue as a mountain
so dapper soos ‘n leeu = as brave as a lion

so dood soos ‘n mossie = as dead as a sparrow

This simile might derive from as dead as a dodo (referring to the dodo being an extinct species), although I think that as dead as a door nail is more used.

so doof soos ‘n kwartel = as deaf as a quail

so doof soos 'n kwartel = as deaf as a quail

Quails are widespread in South Africa and very easy to catch. The expression is based on a misunderstanding between Dutch and German. In German “doof” means “dumb”. Because quails are easy to catch or be lured with simple tricks, the Germans called them “doof” and the word entered Dutch and then Afrikaans.
In English we would say as deaf as a post.

so dom soos ‘n esel = as stupid as a donkey
so donker soos die nag = as dark as the night
so dronk soos ‘n matroos = as drunk as a sailor
so droog soos kurk / strooi = as dry as cork / as dry as straw (as dry as a bone is used in English)
so dun soos ‘n plank = as thin as a plank (rather as thin as a rail in English)

so fris soos ‘n perd = as healthy as a horse

so fris soos 'n perd = as healthy as a horse

This is an interesting Afrikaans idiom as the English equivalent originates in the NE of the USA and is best used in summer. In English we would rather say as healthy / as fit as a butcher’s dog. This makes sense as a butcher’s dog would have a diet based on meat and other scraps, thus keeping him healthier than the stray dogs.

so geduldig soos Job = as patient as Job
so geel soos goud = as yellow as gold
geld soos bossies = money like weeds (has a lot of money)
so gereeld soos klokslag = as regular as clockwork
so giftig soos ‘n slang = as poisonous as a snake

so goed soos goud = as good as gold (completely genuine)

so goed  soos goud = as good as gold (completely genuine)

This simile most probably draws from the end of the 19th century when banknotes were first introduced in the USA. These were actually IOUs, written promises for a later payment, in gold and silver. Thus the expression, IOUs were “as genuine as gold”, as good as gold.

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit…
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

so glad soos seep = as smooth as soap
so groen soos gras = as green as grass
so groot soos ‘n reus = as big as a giant
so hard soos klip = as hard as stone
so helder soos kristal = as clear as crystal
so honger soos ‘n wolf = as hungry as a wolf

so koel soos ‘n komkommer = as cool as cucumber

so koel  soos 'n komkommer = as cool as cucumber

As cool as a cucumber dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. Cool here does not refer to low temperature, but rather to someone unruffled. As cool as a cucumber was first recorded in 1732, in John Gay’s New Song on New Similes.

so koud soos ys = as cold as ice
so krom soos ‘n hoepel = as crooked as a hoop
so kwaai soos ‘n tierwyfie = as vicious as a tigress
so lelik soos die nag = as ugly as the night
so lig soos ‘n veer = as light as a feather
so lui soos ‘n donkie = as lazy as a donkey
so maer soos ‘n kraai = as thin / skinny as a crow
so mak soos ‘n lam = as tame as a lamb
so maklik soos pyp opsteek = as easy as lighting a pipe

so moeg soos ‘n hond = as tired as a dog

so moeg  soos 'n hond = as tired as a dog

As tired as a dog draws back to the 9th century, originating in the adjectival phrase dog-tired. It is said that Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and King of the Anglo-Saxons used to send his sons, Athelbrod and Edwin, out hunting accompanied by their dogs. Whichever son would catch more game would be seated at their father’s right hand side at the dinner table that evening. The hunt would leave both young princes as tired as a dog.

so nat soos ‘n kat = as wet as a cat
so nuuskierig soos ‘n aap = as curious as a monkey
so oud soos die berge = as old as the mountains
so plat soos ‘n pannekoek = as flat as a pancake
pronk soos ‘n pou = shows off like a peacock
so reg soos ‘n roer = as straight as a barrel (of a gun)
so rond soos ‘n koeël = as round as a bullet
so rooi soos bloed = as red as blood
so regop soos ‘n kers = as upright as a candle
rook soos ‘n skoorsteen = smokes like a chimney
so sag soos sy = as soft as silk
so seker soos twee maal twee vier is = as sure as knowing two times two is four
sing soos ‘n nagtegaal = sings like a nightingale
so skerp soos ‘n lemmetjie = as sharp as a razor blade
so skraal soos ‘n riet = as slim as a reed
so skurf soos ‘n padda = (skin) as scabby / dry as a toad

slaap soos ‘n klip = sleeps like a stone

slaap soos 'n klip = sleeps like a stone

The former version of sleep like a stone would be sleep like a log – metaphorically mentioned in English as early as the 17th century:

“foundering is when she will neither veere nor steare, the sea will so ouer rake her, except you free out the water, she will lie like a log, and so consequently sinke.”

John Smith, A Sea Grammar, 1627

so slim soos ‘n jakkals = as clever, crafty as a jackal
so soet soos suiker / stroop = as sweet as sugar / syrup
so stadig soos ‘n trapsuutjies = as slow as a chameleon
so steeks soos ‘n donkie = as stubborn as a donkey
so sterk soos ‘n os = as strong as an ox
so stil soos ‘n muis = as quiet as a mouse
stink soos ‘n muishond = stinks like a skunk
so suur soos asyn = as sour as vinegar
so swaar soos lood = as heavy as lead
so swak soos ‘n lammetjie = as weak as a lamb
so swart soos die nag = as black as the night
swem soos ‘n vis = swims like a fish
sweet soos ‘n perd = sweats like a horse
so taai soos ‘n ratel = as tough as a honey badger
so trots soos ‘n pou = as proud as a peacock
so vas soos ‘n rots = as steady as a rock
so vinnig soos ‘n windhond = as fast as a greyhound

so wit soos sneeu = as white as snow

so wit soos sneeu = as white as snow

Imagine the pure, pristine snow of a sunny winter’s morning. Shakespeare was one of the first to use this powerful simile:

… What if this cursed hand
Were thicker than itself with brother’s blood,
Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens
To wash it white as snow? …

Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1602

You might be interested in:

32 original Afrikaans idioms sure to make you smile once translated into English

20 Afrikaans words with interesting English literal translations

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Lurid, Autumn’s Gold

Lurid, Autumn's Gold

The morning mist enveloped autumn’s shades
And auburn, crimson, scarlet –
They all paled
And blended into lurid,
The yellow pale.
Beneath the nascent sky.

If lurid mushrooms come your way,
They’re good and healthy and they should stay
For supper, if they may.
But bright ones, picked in Autumn…
Stay away!
Or you own skin will turn lurid…
One day.

I let them fly,
Between the Autumn’s wings,
My dreams,
Like lurid ghosts amid the yellow leaves.

Some words carry an emotional burden, like lurid. Used in 17th century to describe stages of bruising and corpses, lurid sipped into nature: lifeless, pale, yellowish leaves of Autumn… Then it floated to ghastly light… And, finally, made the shocking news.

The ghastly, lurid light that covered the Afghan earth when Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001. You can read about this in my latest book, Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for.

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Looking at Skulls in the Catacombs of Paris

Looking at Skulls in Paris Catacombes

Bones are the very last of our earthly traces and a proof of the existence of life itself. Bones symbolize that life is indestructible and they symbolize resurrection too (in Jewish tradition). Yet bones constantly remind us of our own mortality and of our feeble presence in this world.

Ahead of Halloween, I invite you to join me in a contemplation of death, life and immortality as we walk through the Catacombs of Paris.
And down we go. 20 meters underground.

A spiral staircase taking us 20 meters underground into the Catacombs of Paris
A spiral staircase taking us 20 meters underground into the Catacombs of Paris

This ossuary, containing the remains of millions of Parisians, is not what one might imagine, even after researching and viewing various images online.
A lifeless, gloomy, never-ending labyrinth. Life is suddenly a precious commodity here.
These pictures have not been altered.

A tunnel underground, Catacombs of Paris, where life is suddenly a precious commodity.
Life is suddenly a precious commodity here.

And even further we go. There is no turning back now…

The Catacombs of Paris, an underground labyrinth. No turning back now.
The Catacombs of Paris, an underground labyrinth. No turning back now.

The Catacombs of Paris are a time-travel place no one bargained for:

1876 stamped in a brick: , Catacombs of Paris officially opened to the public.
1876 stamped in a brick: , Catacombs of Paris officially opened to the public.

Feels like “Death lived there and none of them wanted to meet her that night.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
An endless pit in the Catacombs of Paris
Feels like “Death lived there and none of them wanted to meet her that night.” (Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg)

We are reminded that life goes on above the ground. Are we remembered, down here, underneath Rue Hallé?

A reminder that we are underneath Rue Hallé in the Catacombs of Paris.

The first wall of skulls and bones knocked the breath out of my lungs:

The first wall of skulls and bones in the Paris  Catacombs.

And then, this. Suddenly, a wind blasts through the Parisian Catacombs and I am chilled to the bone:

Skulls in the Parisian Catacombs

“whenever he would wake up cold and shivering, he would know he’d just felt death’s icy breath on his skin and that he escaped her again.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
Ils furent ce que nous sommes,
Poussière, jouet du vent; 
Fragiles comme des hommes. 
Faibles comme le néant. 
Paris Catacombs

“Ils furent ce que nous sommes,
Poussière, jouet du vent;
Fragiles comme des hommes.
Faibles comme le néant.”

(Lamartine)

“They were once as we are now,
Dust, trinkets in the wind;
As fragile as humankind.
As frail as the void.”

Human skull, close up - Paris Catacombs

Human bones are light ivory with a touch of brown, but when exposed to soil and natural pigments or minerals in the soil they change color.
I stand 1m 65cm tall. This mountain of human bones and skulls was at my eye level, nearly touching the ceiling of the Parisian Catacombs:

A mountain of human bones and skulls standing 1m 60cm high in the Catacombs of Paris

And further we go, quietly.

A cross in the Catacombs of Paris

Which way? Death is all around us. Overpowering.

Catacombs of Paris, a real maize

“his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag…”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
A heart made out of skulls. Paris Catacombs
A heart of skulls to show the love for those departed.

It gets much darker than this:

A cross and three mounds of bones in the Paris Catacombs.

Memento Creatoris tui in diebus juventutis tuae… “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth”

Ecclesiastes xii: 1

A forgotten anatomy lesson: a view inside the frontal and parietal bones:

Skull, view inside the frontaland parietal bones

The Catacombs are a never-ending maize. I need out.

towards exit. Paris Catacombs

“They followed on the stony path knowing it lead to a place where death ruled.”

Silent Heroes, by Patricia Furstenberg
A light shaft. Paris Catacombs
Light. Life.

Until we found the stairs going up, towards life, light and hope.

Exit, stairs going up, Paris Catacombs

Thank you for joying me.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for, 5 stars reviews
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Feuille-Morte and A Nightingale in Autumn

Autumn is splashing out its colors, giving away her best dead leaves, feuilles mortes. If I would describe Fall to you as the season with brownish-orange dry leaves, would I get your attention?

Feuille-morte

Dead leaves, dry leaves, faded, brownish-yellow.
Boring.

Feuille morte, sun’s promise captured in amber.
The spicy scent of cinnamon steaming from childhood’s pumpkin pies. Crunching in my mouth to the cadence of feuille mortes underneath my feet.
Autumn.

Feuilles-mortes, dead leaves, autumn colors
Feuilles-mortes, dead leaves, autumn colors

Nightingale in Autumn

Masked by a philamot leaf,
Its faded hue a match for the grey plumage
Of the Philomela perched behind, on a twig –
Or was she hiding, aware of her tune, a heavenly image?

@PatFurstenberg
Philamot color, Philomela - Nightingale, in Autumn
Philamot color, Philomela – Nightingale, in Autumn

Philamot, sometimes spelled philomot, is another word describing autumn’s yellow-brown foliage (feuille).

I hope you will return to my blog for more autumn colors and words.

Speaking of words and seasons, you might like to sneak a peek inside my Christmas Haiku book:

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5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for via @PatFurstenberg #travel #castle #monument #history #culture

5 Remarkable Places You Will Want to Visit After Reading Silent Heroes

Whenever I read a book depicting real locations, actual places I can find on a map, a novel in which genuine artwork is described, and tangible, concrete buildings I know I can also visit are part of its setting, I tend to be more immersed in its story-line. The storytelling becomes more credible and, if by chance or choice, I visit those place I find myself immersed in that particular book again and, often, I pick it up and read it again.

On researching location for my latest novel, “Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for” I discovered a few sensational places; some new to me, secrets buried by history and war, others I have heard of but had not known how inspirational and amazing they were. I know, now, that I’d like to visit them all, one day when traveling to Afghanistan for tourism will be a safe endeavor once again.

1. Buddhas of Bamyan

The two Buddhas of Bamyan - the taller and the smaller one, as they once stood since their construction around 500AD and before the Taliban attack in March 2001
The two Buddhas of Bamyan – the taller and the smaller one, as they once stood since their construction around 500AD and before the Taliban attack in March 2001 – Source Wikipedia

“The Taliban did not succeed in wiping out the two Buddhas, but they became unrecognizable as the figures they once were. A cultural, religious, historical and entomological symbol and landmark.
It was a bleak day in human history when something that watched over the valley for 1 500 years was destroyed in a matter of weeks.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

The Buddhan of Bamyan were two colossal statues carved during the 6th century into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley, once along the Silk Road, in the central highlands of Afghanistan, 230 km NW of Kabul, its capital city.

The bodies of the Buddhas were carved in the mountain cliff, while delicate details have been modeled out of mud and straw and coated with stucco for resistance. The faces, hands, and folds of the Buddhas’ robes were painted for an enhanced effect. The big Buddha, 53 m tall, was painted carmine red while the smaller Buddha, 35 m tall, was painted in multiple colors. They represented the Buddhas Vairocana and Sakyamuni.

“Taliban forces operating in Afghanistan had destroyed these colossal statues in March 2001. They started by damaging the Buddha with anti-aircraft firearms and cannons. Yet the damage inflicted was not enough for the Taliban. They returned with anti-tank mines that they placed at the statues bases. When sections of rock broke off, the statues suffered further damage.

And still, they did not stop here.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Destruction of Buddhas March 21 2001. Source Wikipedia
Destruction of Buddhas March 21 2001. Source Wikipedia

“The Taliban dropped men down the face of the cliff. They had placed explosives into the various grooves found in the Buddhas. The plan was clear, to completely destroy the facial features of the two statues. Maybe a bad understanding of the Quran: Islam condemns idolatry. When one of the blasts could not destroy the facial features of one statue, a rocket was used in its place. It left a hideous gap in whatever was left of the Buddha’s head.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
Taller Buddha of Bamiyan before and after destruction. Source, Wikipedia
Taller Buddha of Bamiyan before and after destruction. Source, Wikipedia

But there is hope.

7 June 2015: Xinyu Zhang and Hong Liang , a Chinese adventurist couple, created a 3D image of the Buddhas and donated projector used for the installation, worth at $120 000. The 3D projection was able to fill once more the void cavities where the two majestic Buddhas once stood.

2. Qala-e Bost Fortress

“Qala-e-Boost or Bost Fort is the remnant of Alexander the Great’s Fortress in Afghanistan. What still stands today from this millennial old fortress is an impressive ruin. Helmand’s crown jewel is located on the east bank of the Helmand River, near Lashkar Gah, a city in southwestern Afghanistan and the capital of Helmand Province.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

Lashkargah, or Lashkar Gah, means “army barracks” in Persian language.

Qala-e-Bost, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia
Qala-e-Bost, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia

“The stones of Qala-e-Boost have seen wars as well as the joys of celebrations. They have known wealth and ruin. Early hymns of the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest religions in the world, were once performed here. One of them was the Nowruz, the famous ceremony dedicated to the Sun and marking the Iranian New Year and the Spring Equinox. Along the years Bost fortress has been used as a guard post for the traditional caravan trade from Iran to India. The Mongols, then the Persians have been here too, then the Arabs, even the Russians. Leaders and warriors came here as attested by the terracotta figurines, the inscribed seals, and the many coins discovered here, and then they left. Still, Bost remained.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
The famous arch at Qala-i-Bust or Bost, in Helmand. Source Wikipedia
The famous arch at Qala-i-Bust or Bost, in Helmand. Source Wikipedia

” At noontime, the sun spat yellow venom over the desert surrounding the ruins of the Qala-e-Bost fortress, over this war-cursed land where a misconceived culture and an overpowering international necessity to meddle fatalistically merged, long-stalling the Afghan peace process.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

What is amazing about Qala-e-Bost Fortress is not what is visible above the ground, but what is hidden underneath, the entire Bost castle, 5 levels, being in the shape of a well hidden underground.

Qala-e-Bost Fortress as seen in“Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for"
Qala-e-Bost Fortress as seen in“Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for”

“As an eerie glow spread over the flat expanse of sand, from his high point Marcos caught a glimpse of what Qala-e-Bost’s crumbling walls would have been in its time of glory. No longer a ghostly silhouette, a mere reminder of an existence long forgotten, but a castle again.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

I researched so much about this underground castle that stood the test of time. It would be incredible to walk its corridors, to see the light bouncing from the walls of its shaft, to hear the echoes of history as it was buried in its secret rooms.

3. An Afghan garden

Gardening says a lot about the nurturing abilities of a person. When an entire population has a gift for gardening it means that they have peace in their hearts and know the value of life.

An Afghan garden
An Afghan garden

I was amazed to discover how much gardening means to the Afghan people and how connected they are to their roots, to the soil of Afghanistan, nurturing or arid. How inventive the Afghans proved to be, making the best out of each situation, when it comes to gardens.

I tried to depict their nurturing nature in the pages of “Silent Heroes“.

“Afghans are gardeners at heart, did you know? Before they are mujahideen or insurgents or Taliban-bloody-criminals, they love to garden.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

4. A Military Base in Afghanistan

Military camp at Bagram, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia
Military camp at Bagram, Afghanistan. Source Wikipedia

During the two years plus it took me to research and write “Silent Heroes” I researched in depth the living conditions of the US Marines deployed in Afghanistan and of all the military fighting there.

2012 army photo competition.Amateur Portrait category runner-up Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West.Picture Captain Richard Willing MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images
Army Photographic Competition 2012. In this handout image supplied by the Ministry of Defence Crown Copyright, photo entitled ‘LIGHTNING AND HIS HANDLER’, depicting Cpl Dawson and his dog Lightning rest up in TCP West. (Army Amateur Portrait category runner up; Photo by Captain Richard Willing/MoD/Mandatory Credit Crown Copyright via Getty Images)

What is outstanding is the level of organization and, at the same time, the little comfort these amazing soldiers put up with every day in order to do their duty towards their own countries and to keep peace for us all.

And anything reminding them of home is treasured. Like the small American flag in the image below.

A U.S. Marine looks out from his post in September at Bost airfield in Helmand province. Andrew Renneisen-Getty Images
A U.S. Marine looks out from his post in September at Bost airfield in Helmand province. Andrew Renneisen-Getty Images

“Between the building and the sheet of the tent was a corridor-wide enough for a human to pass through, two would have to negotiate. From a drain pipe facing the main door hung a small size American flag, the one civilians wave on the 4th of July, its sole purpose of connecting them with home.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

5. A field of poppies

In Afghanistan, poppies – opium poppies – mean death and poverty. I, “Silent Heroes” I tried to explain the vicious cycle that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan means. It was fascinating to learn how it started, why, and what its consequences meant for the Afghan population as well as internationally.

A soldier walking past a poppy field in Afghanistan
A soldier walking past a poppy field in Afghanistan

“The hamlet’s reputation of frightfulness came from the complete lack of vegetation. As if the poppy field that once flourished nearby sucked away any drop of water that might have concentrated in the adjacent earth, like some type of incongruous alien.”

( Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)

International affairs and their local implications are never as simple as they appear at the beginning.

“So ‘The Golden Triangle’ (Burma, Thailand, Laos) was soon replaced by ‘The Golden Crescent’ (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran).”

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for)
World Map Opium Heroin. Golden Triangle. Golden Crescent. Source Wikipedia
World Map Opium Heroin. Golden Triangle. Golden Crescent. Source Wikipedia

Still, there is something magical about a field of poppies. I think that poppies seeds, with their ability to remain dormant throughout the years, are a fantastic representation of what hope and resilience is all about. Never give up.

Maybe because poppy has a long association with Remembrance Day. Why? Scarlet poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed, arid earth throughout the world. Poppies grew naturally after the Napoleonic wars of the 19th Century and again on battlefields of WW1.

An old, happy short-haired pointer dog in a poppy field at sunset
An old, happy short-haired pointer dog in a poppy field at sunset

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

I hope you enjoyed reading about the five locations that inspired and amazed me while writing “Silent Heroes“.

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for
Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for – New Contemporary Fiction by Patricia Furstenberg

Do you have a favorite place you read about in a book?

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