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The influence of the Dutch on the English language

Updated on October 21, 2010

"Probably no nationality has come in for so consistent a torrent of verbal abuse from the English as their neighbors across the channel : the Dutch..." (from "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner)

Canal with patricians houses - Leiden, Netherlands
Canal with patricians houses - Leiden, Netherlands

The Dutch Golden Age

Born and raised in the Netherlands and with a fascination of history, I’ve often wondered where all those English expressions with the word ‘Dutch’ in it, come from. But before understanding where those words come from, I had to do a history research and well... here’s what I’ve come up with.

In the midst of throwing off Spanish rule after an eighty year struggle, the Dutch emerged at the dawn of the 17th century as a pre-eminent military and commercial power on the sea. This period in Dutch history became known as the Netherlands' Golden Age, during which the Dutch produced some of the world's greatest painters, philosophers, mathematicians and astronomers. Alongside the British, the Dutch initially built up colonial possessions on the basis of indirect state capitalist corporate colonialism, via the Dutch East and West India Companies, stretching from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Brazil to Aruba, the Antilles, and the southern tip of Africa. It was also the only western country permitted to trade with Japan. A major sea power, the Dutch in 1650 owned 16,000 of the 20,000 ships engaged in European commerce.

Between 1652 and 1674, the Dutch fought three naval wars with England. The English had hoped to wrest control of shipping and trading from the Dutch but failed. Most Dutch words and expressions were made up at a low point in relations between England and The Netherlands. Their intense rivalry found an outlet in a wide range of popular sayings invented by each country to insult the other.

In the English-speaking culture, the few volleys in this linguistic war that have survived are, naturally, those disparaging the Dutch, although many of the English anti-Dutch terms became popular in the U.S. because of confusion with the word "Deutsch," or German, and were often applied to German immigrants.

So, there you have it... the origin of those anti-Dutch terms. I've satisfied my curiosity and now you (pointing Dutch finger)… beat the Dutch and have a great conversation starter next time you go Dutch with your friends !

I think you've got the wrong idea about going Dutch !
I think you've got the wrong idea about going Dutch !
Dutch barn
Dutch barn
Dutch clock
Dutch clock
Dutch cut
Dutch cut
Dutch door
Dutch door
Dutch hoe
Dutch hoe
Dutch oven
Dutch oven
Dutch roll
Dutch roll
Dutch wife
Dutch wife

Going Dutch : each person pays his or her own way

Beat the Dutch : to do or say something remarkable

To do a Dutch : to desert, runaway or commit suicide

It got Dutched : it got cancelled

Double Dutch : Nonsense - a language one cannot understand. Also a children's skipping game, in which two ropes are used.

My old Dutch : affectionate way to describe your wife

To get Dutch : to have an argument

His / her Dutch is up : he / she is furious

Gambling a Dutch book : a set of odds and bets which guarantees a profit, regardless of the outcome of the gamble

Dutchy : messy

To be in Dutch : to be in trouble

Dutch act : Suicide

Dutch angle : holding a (photo) camera on an angle to get a slanted horizon. Often used to portray the psychological uneasiness or tension in the subject being filmed.

Dutch auction : auction in which the prices go down instead of up

Dutch bargain : A bargain settled over drinks, the Dutch being formerly reputed to be steady drinkers.

Dutch barn : large barn with open sides for storage of hay.

Dutch bond : type of masonry bond (brick work)

To be Dutch build : to have a thick-set figure

Dutch bulb : a bulb imported from Holland, such as tulips, hyacinths and daffodils.

Dutch clock : a pendulum clock

Dutch collar : A horse collar.

Dutch Colonial : Characterised by a gambrel roof with overhanging eaves.

Dutch comfort : Cold comfort, i.e. things might have been worse.

Dutch concert : A great noise and uproar, like that made by a party of drunken Dutchmen, some singing, others quarrelling, speechifying, etc.

Dutch courage : false courage produced by the effects of drinking alcohol.

Dutch cousins : Close friends, a play upon cousins german.

Dutch crossing : crossing the street slant wise

Dutch cut or Dutch bob : a haircut with straight bangs across the front and the rest evenly cut on earlobe length

Dutch defence : retreat / a sham defence.

Dutch door : A door divided horizontally so that the lower or upper part can be shut separately.

Dutch feast : the host is drunk before his guests

Dutch finger : tool to repair a leaking pipe or pointing at someone with the index finger when having an argument

Dutch fuck : to light one cigarette from the ember of another cigarette

Dutch generosity : Stinginess.

Dutch gleek : Tippling. Gleek is a game and the name implies that the game loved by Dutchmen is drinking.

Dutch headache : Hangover

Dutch hoe : A scuffle hoe, a garden hoe that has both edges sharpened and can be pushed forward or drawn back.

Dutch leaf : False gold leaf.

Dutch leave : to leave without permission.

Dutch moment : quiet moment to pray

Dutch nightingales : frogs

Dutch oven :

  • heavy iron cooking pot with close fitting lid.
  • tin hanging screen for cooking before a kitchen range or ordinary fire grate.
  • brick oven in which the walls are preheated for cooking.
  • prank where one farts under a blanket while holding a victim there.

Pennsylvania Dutch : Not Dutch at all, but rather Deutsch, i.e. German, descendants (both the language and the people) of German settlers in Pennsylvania

Dutch reckoning : a bill that is presented without any details, and which only gets bigger if you question it

Dutch roll : A combination of directional and lateral oscillation of an aeroplane.

Dutch rub : To rub your knuckles across the top of someone’s head whilst holding their head under your other arm.

Dutch talent : That which is not done in true nautical and shipshape fashion, more the result of brawn than brain.

Dutch treat : no "treat" at all because each person pays his or her own way. To go Dutch has the same meaning.

Dutch Uncle : The Dutch were known for the firm way they raised their children. So if someone speaks to you like a Dutch uncle he is speaking in a very severe way. And you should listen to him carefully!

Dutch widow : A prostitute.

Dutch wife : long hard bolster made of bamboo used, esp in the tropics, to support one's uppermost knee when sleeping on one's side. Called thus because it was round, fat and just lay there.

In at least Japan, but probably also elsewhere, a sex doll.

Dutchman's pipe
Dutchman's pipe
The Flying Dutchman. Painting by Albert Pinkham Ryder
The Flying Dutchman. Painting by Albert Pinkham Ryder

With the word 'Dutchman' in it

Dutchman’s anchor : An old naval synonym for anything that has been left behind. The expression derives from an apocryphal Dutch captain who explained after his ship had been wrecked "Oh yes, I had an excellent anchor: unfortunately I left it at home that voyage"

Dutchman’s cape : imaginary land on the horizon

Dutchman's draught : A "big swig", a copious draught; one of the many allusions to the Dutchman's reputed fondness for heavy drinking.

Dutchman's log : rough method for finding a ship's speed by throwing a piece of wood, etc., into the sea well forward and timing its passage between two marks on the vessel of known distance apart.

Dutchman's pipe : A hardy climbing plant (Aristolochia sipho) that grows wild in the southern United States. The plant has large, heart-shaped leaves and rather small, brownish-yellow pipe-shaped flowers.

Flying Dutchman : A ghost ship. A sailor who sees a Flying Dutchman will die before reaching home.

I'm a Dutchman : expression of disbelief or strong refusal


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