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Dutch Proverbs and Expressions Without Foreign Counterparts
My Favourite Schoolteacher
I suppose everyone had his/her favourite schoolteacher, especially during the adolescence period. My favourite one was my Dutch teacher, she always thought (or hoped) I would become an Alpha student, but since I was totally not interested in language I had to disappoint her, wanted to become a jet fighter pilot.
When I appeared not to be suitable to become a flying hero, because of fear of heights and myopia, I became an engineer. I must have been a horrible pupil, but since she was convinced I was talented, despite my bad grades - she never gave up in teaching me some of the Alpha stuff, therefore she became increasingly my pillar of strength.
With aging I realize more and more how important language is and that Beta should be submissive to Alpha. I learned that expressing yourself in the right way and transmitting a message in the right way is far more difficult than engineering a new piece of equipment, which is often done by testing and trial-and-error. Machinery in this regard is patient, but the receiver of your message often not, which means you cannot communicate too much by using trial-and-error.
My teacher Dutch advised me to be less impulsive in speech - think your words through before expressing them, better use a proverb or expression, than convey them in your own words, she advised me. Proverbs and expressions are solid and especially powerful when used at the right moment. She was right, afterall.
I dedicate this Hub to her with typical Dutch proverbs that have no counterparts in other languages, I verified this. I am sure she would appreciate this gesture, because it took me hours of studying in old books - Dutch, English, German and French. Finally I did my homework.
An Example With Foreign Equivalents
The Dutch proverb 'In de aap gelogeerd zijn', is literally translated 'to stay in the monkey'. The English respectively the French equivalents are 'to be in queer street' and 'être logé chez guillot le songeur', which means you're in some kind of troubles. The Germans don't have an equivalent. Apparently they didn't get so quickly in troubles as the English, French and the Dutch, due to their 'Deutsche Gründlichkeit', but they're also a little bit boring because of this.
The Dutch proverbs I've found have not such of these equivalents in other (for me known) languages. I translated them to straight forward English, which can be quite funny sometimes.
Dutch Proverbs and Expressions Using Animals
- Aal is geen paling (~literal eng: ale is no eel). 'Aal' are the little young eels living in the Northsea and swim up the rivers. After becoming pubescent, big and fat, they are called 'paling', which means eel and can be used for profitable fishing in sweet water. Catching the little 'Aal' in the sea will damage another branch of the fishery in the future. The meaning of this proverb is: the lesser cannot play the role of the valuable.
- Afgaan als een reiger (~literal eng: go off like a heron). This expression is typically used when someone suffers disgrace after a public performance.
- Beren op de weg zien (~literal eng: seeing bears on the road). This expression is used when someone is taking problems much too seriously. The proverb originates from the bible, where was spoken about lions on the road. It should express a worry that was not unusual. The lions are replaced by bears, because bears seemed more usual than lions on the roads in Holland, although I never saw a bear on the road here.
- Een bok schieten (~literal eng: shooting a goat). Committing a big stupidity or making a huge mistake. The goat had first predecessors like a calf and a pig, but finally it became a goat. How this expression arose, is not precisely known.
- Hij heeft er een hondje zien geselen (~literal eng: he has seen a doggie thrashing). Meaning he has seen something terrible that makes him avoid that specific place. If it is used in the form of a question, it is meant to be sarcastic, meaning it was a long time ago he visited someone. The dog presumably represents the devil, but this is uncertain regarding the diminutive for dog.
- In katzwijm liggen (~literal eng: lying in cat swoon). This expression originates from the 17th century sailor language when a vessel due to lack of wind comes to a halt, means when someone has fainted, after too much impressions.
- Iemand over het paard tillen (~literal eng: lifting someone over the horse). It means to spoil someone by persistent praise. It is an imaginary expression that the blessed one is lifted higher than the actual horse back. This expression originates from the 17th century which was used to express the too much fuss that Michiel de Ruyter got for his naval battle victories.
- Wij zullen dat varkentje well (even) wassen (~literal eng: We will wash that little pig). This expression originates from the 16th century, when pigs after being slaughtered had be washed with boiling water, which was a difficult job. The pig (varken) is often reduced to little pig (varkentje) to encourage the 'job takers' it's not as difficult as it seems. The word 'even' in Dutch can be translated as 'shortly', to encourage even more.
Literal English Translation
Aal is geen paling
ale is no eel
Afgaan als een reiger
go off like a heron
Beren op de weg zien
seeing bears on the road
Een bok schieten
shooting a goat
Hij heeft er een hondje zien geselen
he has seen a doggie thrashing
In katzwijm liggen
lying in cat swoon
Iemand over het paard tillen
lifting someone over the horse
Wij zullen dat varkentje wel (even) wassen
We will wash that little pig
Dutch Proverbs and Expressions Using Food
- Daar komt een schip met zure appelen (~literal eng: there comes a ship with sour apples). A proverb that expresses that tears are coming or someone is getting in a bad mood. It originates probably from ancient believes that people saw in clouds and mists ships that were sent by the gods, with evil intentions.
- Een appelflauwte krijgen (~literal eng: to get an apple faint). An expression that originated from the 17th century, which means that someone’s fainting is so insignificant that the slightest smell and taste of a sour apple is enough to regain consciousness.
- Dat is het eiereten niet (~literal eng: that is not the egg eating). If someone comes up with an idea which is not related to the issue, you can use this expression, to indicate that it is totally wrong and not the issue. If someone is actually right you can use this too in the sense: that's the whole egg eating.
- Ergens haring of kuit van willen hebben (~literal eng: want to have herring or spawn of something). Meaning that someone is not satisfied with a given explanation and wants more. This expression is derived from the 16th century's expression 'I want egg or chicken from it' that has the French counterpart 'tirer pied ou aile de quelque chose'.
- Van haver tot gort (~literal eng: from oats to groats). Meaning that someone knows everything about a certain issue, from start to finish. 'Hij weet het van haver tot gort', is literally translated 'he knows from oats to groats'.
- Geen pap van iets gegeten hebben (~literal eng: not eaten porridge from something). Meaning that someone has no understanding of something.
- Met de rapen in de pot gaan (~literal eng: to go with the turnips in the pot). This proverb means that all money is used for food and especially applied when little earnings are directly used for buying food. The expressed image is that minor amounts of additional food are boiled together with the major food, the turnips and are hardly noticed.
- Roet in het eten gooien (~literal eng: to throw soot in the food). It means to spoil something for someone or to block someone’s attempts to achieve results. The soot isn't meant literally, it's supposed to point to inedible animal fat that was added to the food.
Literal English Translation
Daar komt een schip met zure appelen
there comes a ship with sour apples
Een appelflauwte krijgen
to get an apple faint
Dat is het eiereten niet
that is not the egg eating
Ergens haring of kuit van willen hebben
want to have herring or spawn of something)
Van haver tot gort
from oats to groats
Geen pap van iets gegeten hebben
not eaten porridge from something
Met de rapen in de pot gaan
to go with the turnips in the pot)
Roet in het eten gooien
to throw soot in the food).
Dutch Proverbs and Expressions Related to Water and Sailing
- Een schip aflopen (~literal eng: to walk off a ship). It means to take something repeatedly with violence. This proverb stems from the 16th century, when piracy and mutiny were rampant. It belongs to one of the most unknown proverbs.
- Een schip op (het) strand, een baken in zee (~literal eng: a ship on the beach, a beacon in the sea). Meaning that an accident that happened to someone, is a warning to others. A variant of this proverb is 'een gewaarschuwd man telt voor twee', meaning literally a forewarned man counts for two.
- De boot is aan (~literal eng: the boat is on). An imaginary proverb that expresses the boat is docked, meaning the show is underway or already going on. A similar expression that is less strong is 'de poppen zijn aan het dansen', literally the dolls are dancing, for which the English have the expression the fat is in the fire.
- Uit de boot vallen (~literal eng: to fall off the boat). Meaning while being in a company of others, when travelling, having a party, etc., forced to leave somewhere halfway. The expression expresses in a very strong way that someone is pitiful and that he/she has no influence on this event.
- Veel vuil water maken om iets (~literal eng: to make a lot of dirty water for something). This proverb stems from a book about maritime affairs that describes how ships made the surrounding water dirty in shallow waters without hitting the bottom. The proverb means to make unnecessary fuss about something.
Water and Sailing
Literal English Translation
Een schip aflopen
to walk off a ship
Een schip op (het) strand, een baken in zee
a ship on the beach, a beacon in the sea
De boot is aan
the boat is on
Uit de boot vallen
to fall off the boat
Veel vuil water maken om iets
to make a lot of dirty water for something