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Weird and Popular Dutch Sayings Translated Into English

Updated on July 26, 2019
Kimberly Martis profile image

Kimberly Martis is a Dutch Caribbean freelance writer. She writes about culture, beauty, tv-shows, music, movies, odd jobs and fiction.

The Dutch flag.
The Dutch flag. | Source

Have you ever been to the Netherlands? If you haven't then you should definitely come visit us. I do have to warn you upfront as there are many weird things that we do. And it’s not only the things that we do. We also have weird sayings. If you’re wondering what these weird sayings are then this article is for you. Ready to find out what burning your booty, monkeys getting out of sleeves and rubbing stuff on people mean in the Dutch language?

One more thing. Even in Dutch a lot of these sayings sound weird as the words and the way the sentence is built don’t really make sense. Until you learn the meaning of them and know-how and when to use them. Therefore, you will find the saying written in Dutch first. Afterward, you will find the saying literally translated into English. No rearranging of the words for them to look and sound better in English. So, if it’s weird in Dutch it’s weird in English. And lastly, you will find what the saying actually means and stands for. Let's get into it!

Dutch

Komt de aap uit de mouw.

English

The monkey comes out of the sleeve.

I must admit that a monkey getting out of a sleeve sounds weird. And you might have plenty (valid) questions. Why is there a monkey in the first place? Is it wearing a long sleeve or short sleeve t-shirt? Why doesn’t it just take it off instead of crawling through the sleeve? Is the sleeve big enough for the monkey to come out of? I get it. But I can’t give you the answers to these questions as I don’t know the monkey personally. What I do know is the meaning of it.

Meaning

The truth comes to light. (Yes, it's not about a monkey) You might find yourself in a sketchy situation when all of a sudden, the truth gets revealed. This would be your cue to scream “Nou komt de aap uit de mouw!”. You know to raise the drama a bit more if that’s what you‘re into. If drama really isn't your thing you can just whisper it to yourself.

Dutch

Iets in geuren en kleuren vertellen.

English

Telling something in smells and colors.

I think you can guess the meaning of this one if you take a minute to think about it. Still, don’t know what it’s about? Head over to the meaning.

Meaning

Telling a story from A to Z. This is actually a good thing as it can help others really get into the story. Especially when they hear the smallest details. Which can be very important. Unless its gossip and it is about you. Then...yeah you might not appreciate it.

Dutch

Gebrand zijn op iets.

English

Being burned on something.

Burnt? So where is the fire you may ask? And what is burning? Well calm down nothing is on fire, not even the roof. Do you remember that song? Anyway, enough reminiscing about old party songs.

Meaning

Really wanting something. There are different scenarios that can define this saying. You may really want to achieve something but you can also really want to prove a point.

Dutch

Buiten zijn boekje gaan.

English

Going outside of his book.

Worldwide there are a lot of sayings that involve a book. You have closing a book, closing a chapter, turning the page and so on. Even though this saying also involves a book the meaning is not really in line with those of the previously mentioned sayings.

Meaning

Overstepping. It’s as simple as that. If you go outside your book you are overstepping. Which isn’t a good thing. So, if you hear this one you might want to pull on the breaks.

Dutch

Iemand iets aansmeren.

English

Rub something on to someone.

A bunch of questions come to mind again? I get it. I mean why would you rub something on someone if you weren’t giving them a massage? And what would you rub on them? Massage oil, lotion or chocolate? Depending on the type of person you are chocolate might be an option. But it has absolutely nothing to do with physical contact.

Meaning

Selling something to someone in a not so nice/honest way. See nothing physical at all!

Dutch

Voor een appel en een ei.

English

For an apple and an egg.

An apple and an egg are just two ingredients to baking a delicious apple pie. Does this mean that the saying has something to do with food or an apple pie to be specific? Absolutely not.

Meaning

Getting or wanting something for next to nothing. Basically, for free. The saying can be used in a negative and positive way. Let's get into 2 examples. We should get into the negative one first. Just to get it out of the way. You are trying to sell something and the potential buyer wants to buy it at a very low price. Then you can use the saying. A more positive situation where you can use the saying is when you bought something and it was very cheap.

Dutch

Met blindheid geslagen

English

Hit with blindness.

Before you start thinking that Dutch people are violent that is not the case. Nobody is getting beating up or anything. Which brings me to a fun fact about violence in the Netherlands. Of course, violence occurs but the government really invests a lot of money in preventing violence. There are many statues, floor tiles, commercials, and ad campaigns to remind the citizens that violence is not the answer and will not be tolerated.

Meaning

The meaning is of this saying is very simple as it means being dumbfounded.

Dutch

De baard in de keel krijgen.

English

Getting the beard in the throat.

No, Dutch people are not backwards. I know it may look that way reading the translation but we’re not.

Meaning

When a boy turns into a man his voice changes. And this change is being expressed by this saying.

Dutch

In zak en as zitten.

English

Sitting in a bag and ashes.

Why would someone sit in a bag? To help you out nobody is actually sitting in a bag. Just like the rest of the world we also have chairs, couches, and benches to sit on. But I get the confusion.

Meaning

Being very down. Not seeing the beauty in life.

Dutch

Oost-Indisch doof zijn.

English

Being East - Indian deaf.

The Netherlands has a long history with East - India. But I doubt that the saying is based on that history.

Meaning

Only hearing what you want to hear. So, whenever you’re having a conversation with someone who selectively chooses what he or she hears you can use the saying.

Dutch

Een appeltje voor de dorst.

English

An apple for the thirst.

Yes, an apple for the thirst instead against it. I told you the saying was weird in Dutch and equally weird translated.

Meaning

Savings for a rainy day. Not to act like your mother but the saying is absolutely right. You should have some savings for a rainy day. But that’s a conversation that we should have another time so let's move on.

Dutch

Er geen doekjes om winden.

English

Not wrapping wipes around it.

Not wrapping wipes around what you may ask? It could be anything. But it's probably not what you're thinking.

Meaning

Not sugarcoating anything. There are different situations that you can use it in. When you want to be blunt and tell someone something you can use it. But you can also use it when you want/need a straight answer from someone.

Dutch

Wat de boer niet kent, dat eet hij niet.

English

Whatever the farmer doesn't know he doesn't eat.

This one kind of speaks for itself.

Meaning

Someone who only eats food that is familiar to them. That’s crazy, right? With all the different kitchens worldwide, it would be crazy to only eat the same thing over and over again. But to each their own.

Dutch

Wie zijn billen brand moet op de blaren zitten.

English

Whoever burns his booty needs to sit on the blisters.

Can you imagine burning your booty? Yes, I also imagine that it’s not a pleasant feeling. Unless you’re into those sorts of things. (Don’t worry I will not judge you!) But before you think the Dutch are kinky people (we’re really innocent and sweet) let's get to the meaning of it.

Meaning

If you do something (bad) you have to deal with the consequences. It’s as simple as that!

Dutch

Een appeltje met iemand te schillen hebben.

English

Cutting an apple with someone.

Another saying another apple. And just like the other two sayings involving an apple this one also has nothing to do with food.

Meaning

Needing to deal with someone and usually, it’s not meant in a good way. It also gets used among friends but in a jokingly way. In that case, it would mean that someone pulled a prank and you want to get back at them.

Dutch

Van een mug een olifant maken.

English

Turning a mosquito into an elephant.

You may wonder how to turn a mosquito into an elephant. Is there some kind of magic involved? Hmm, probably. But we're not witches, wizards or magicians so it is definitely another saying that you should not take to serious.

Meaning

Making a big deal out of a little thing.

Dutch

Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.

English

High trees catch a lot of wind.

I can try to explain this one but I would like to take a moment to tell you that the earth isn't doing so well. I assume you already know this but I wanted to remind you to take care of it. And be nice to the trees. If you want to plant one or more that would be even better. Now back to the saying.

Meaning

People in high places are bound to receive a lot of criticism and attention.

Dutch

Water bij de wijn doen.

English

Adding water to the wine.

Are you a wine or water person? I’m definitely a water person. I actually don’t know anyone who adds water to their wine but if that the saying. Then we'll just have to go with it.

Meaning

When you’re adding water to the wine, you’re compromising.

Dutch

Door de bomen het bos niet meer zien.

English

Not seeing the forest through the trees.

Don’t worry I will not go on another rant about nature and trees.

Meaning

There is too much going on and now you lost the overall view.

Dutch

Zonder te blikken of te blozen.

English

Without looks or blushing. As this is the last saying on the list I will not bore you with my thoughts on the saying. Let’s get right into the meaning.

Meaning

Shameless. Usually, this saying is used when someone is blatantly lying. So, if someone was blatantly lying and you’re telling it to a third party you can use this saying to express this. Or you can say it straight in their face when they are lying. You know depending on your boldness and need for drama.

As you’ve just read the sayings were literally translated and sounded pretty weird right? Trust me they sound just as weird in Dutch. And yet they are still being used by plenty of Dutch people. It’s always greatly appreciated when tourists say something in Dutch so the next time that you’re in the Netherlands you should pull up this list and use a saying! And if you enjoyed reading this you may also want to take a look at my article about weird and popular saying in Papiamentu!

© 2019 Kimberly Martis

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    • Kimberly Martis profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Martis 

      9 months ago

      Hi Liz! It was pretty hard to pick the phrases as we have so many weird sayings in Dutch. I really like watching British shows. I always hear weird sayings and words but I actually like them even though I don't always understand the meaning right away. But my friend Google always helps me find the meaning.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      9 months ago from UK

      You have compiled an interesting and quirky set of phrases. I am sure that if some of our English phrases were translated literally into another language, they would require some explaining.

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