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Dutch Sayings and Standard Phrases(Het) spreekwoord 2 - (de) uitdrukking 2 - (het) gezegde 'saying, standard phrase, proverb, idiom'
- 'gezegde' may also mean 'the verbs in a sentence'
Scattered over my website is a large number of Dutch lines and phrases. Fred Roberts of Lincoln, England suggested to bring together on one page the sayings and stock expressions, the phrases that often go beyond their literal meaning. These are the kind of lines that often come out funny in computer translations.
Most of these sayings are not basic conversation phrases.
This is not a good page to start learning Dutch
But I do hope that those interested in the Dutch language
will enjoy reading through the page,
hearing the Dutch phrases and seeing what they mean.
For a better understanding of the language, I provided the literal
translation of some of the expressions.
Of course the about 250 sayings on this page are only a fraction of the many Dutch sayings - I will keep adding new phrases.
Some explanations of the sayings were found in
Stoett Nederlandse Spreekwoorden en Gezegden
(W.J. Thieme & Cie, Zutphen 1981)
(no complete overlap) -
Speaking about Dutch
It is a long page - it may be better to read the page in installments, one or two chapters a day, not in one go. The table of contents links to the chapters, for your convenience when you return.
'John Doe' - seen as the most common first and last names
Jan en Alleman 2 ['John and Everybody'] - 'Everybody' (somewhat negative)
Jan met de pet 2 ['John with the cap'] 'the man in the street'
Jan Salie 2 a person without initiative or energy - old-fashioned (salie = sage, a mild herb)
Jan Rap en z'n maat ['John "Wastewood" and his comrade'] 'Bad people, punks'
also: Tuig van de richel 2 'Bad people, scum'
Slapjanus a weak, cowardly person
Zeurpiet a person who nags a lot, complains about everything - Zit niet zo te zeuren 2 'Now stop that nagging'
Pietje-precies a person who pays much attention to details and perfection
|Brave Hendrik 2 also: Een brave borst 2 'an obedient, harmless person' - said of husbands and men in general, and good dogs are also called 'braaf' - Brave hond! 2 3. Dutch brave 2 (braaf / brave 2 3) is a false friend - it does NOT mean 'courageous' like in English.|
|Ware Jacob 2 'True, real Jacob' - 'Mr. Right'|
the birthday boy
Jarige Jet the birthday girl - Dutch Birthday
a person who carelessly gets dirty doing a job|
also: Smeerpoets 2 3 a generally dirty, unclean person
Mafkees a guy deliberately behaving in an odd way, a goofball
|Ongelovige Thomas (a disbelieving Thomas, a person of small faith - from John 20:28)|
|Vrolijke Frans 'Jolly Francis' - a cheerful person|
|Razende Roeltje 'Roaring Roland' - a very energetic, quick person|
|Magere Hein 'Skinny Henry' - the Grim Reaper|
Houten Klaas 'Wooden Charles' - an awkward person
Jan Klaassen en Katrijn 'Punch and Judy' - (de) poppenkast 'a Punch and Judy show'
a person who is a nuisance, a pain in the neck
snotneus 2 3 (4) [snotty nose] 'whippersnapper' a guy too young for his position
minkukel a jerk
flapdrol [flopping turd] - a ridiculous person, male
oen 2 a stupid guy, a person who habitually acts in a stupid way - hij is een oen he is stupid
kwibus a weird, idiosyncratic person - 'n rare kwibus 2
nietsnut 2 a good-for-nothing, useless person
slijmbal 2 3 'a slippery person trying to come into your favor by sweet-talking'
slome duikelaar 2 ( 3 4 ) [turgid dreidel] a dull, boring, low-energy person
| Hij zit te zwammen
He's talking nonsense|
Hij is in een slecht humeur He is in a bad mood
Hij is in de war slow He is very confused
|Hij is van slag
'He's not his ususal self' - also said of clocks that are not
De kippen zijn van de leg 'The chickens are not laying eggs regularly'
|Hij bakt ze bruin ['He's baking them brown'] He's going to exremes, he's behaving badly|
|Hij neemt geen blad voor de mond 2 3 ['He doesn't put a leaf in front of his mouth'] He speaks his mind freely, doesn't mince his words|
|Hij heeft vaker met dat bijltje gehakt 2 3 ['he has wielded that (little) axe before'] 'he has done that before, he has the experience' (usually in a somewhat unpleasant task)|
|Hij is van alle markten thuis 2 ['He's at home in all markets'] - said of a versatile, practical person|
|Hij kent z'n Pappenheimers
'He knows the people he's dealing with' |
I used to think 'Pappenheimers' were a type of potato (like 'Eigenheimers') but Stoett says the saying comes from the German author Schiller and refers to a regiment of soldiers from a count named Pappenheim
|Hij was des duivels 2 ['He was like possessed by the devil'?] 'He was very angry' - 'Des' and the S of 'duivels' are an old-fashioned possessive form|
|Hij laat er geen gras over groeien 2 3 ['He doesn't let (allow) grass grow over it'] - he's taking action immediately|
|Hij is lang van stof 2 [~'He talks at great length'] 'His talking drags on and on'|
|Te dom om voor de duivel te dansen slow ['too stupid to dance for the devil'] - said of a not very bright person|
|Een aardje naar z'n vaartje 2 'a nature like his Dad' - he is like his Dad|
|Baas boven baas 2 ['boss over boss'] - 'There's always someone who can do it better' - said of someone who thinks too much of himself|
|Heer en meester 'Lord and master' - the ultimate authority, the person in power|
|Buiten z'n boekje 2 ['outside his little book'] - said of a person overstepping his authority|
|Anderhalve man en een paardenkop
'one-and-a-half men and a horse's head' -
a disappointing turnout, low attendance, very few people present |
Stoett (Nederlandse Spreekwoorden en Gezegden) says it's from Tijl Uilenspiegel - home alone as a boy a horseman came by his house, and the horse stuck its head over the open top half of the double ('Dutch') door.
|Recht door zee 2 3 said of a person who's honest and frank, a straight talker who doesn't sweet-talk|
|Een roepende in de woestijn 2 'A voice crying out in the wilderness' - from Mark 1:3, John the Baptist, a voice ignored, not heard - in modern Dutch, (de) woestijn means 'desert'|
Ik val aan - volg mij
I am attacking - follow me.
Ascribed to Rear Admiral Karel Doorman at the Battle of the Java Sea, 1942, his last message - but it may have been just a flag signal
|Als de dagen lengen, gaan de nachten strengen
'As the days get longer, the nights will get [stricter]
more severe' |
Often said when referring to Willem Barentsz, who ca. 1600 searching for the North-East Passage got stuck in the ice and wintered on Nova Zembla with his crew - they only left their shelter in June
|Vreemdeling, vertel de Spartanen ... 'Stranger, tell the Spartans ...' (Thermopylae monument inscription)|
|Wat doe je, als je dingen ziet die niemand ooit heeft gezien?
'What do you do, when you see things no one has ever seen [before]?'
- something that could have been said by Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek 17th Century Dutch scientist, inventor of the microscope - Lens on Leeuwenhoek
Al wat groeit en bloeit en ons telkens weer boeit
All things that grow and flower and fascinate us time and again
title of the nature segment of a popular radio program by Dr. Fop I. Brouwer
boeien 2 is literally 'to shackle, to handcuff,' but often means 'to captivate, to be fascinating'
Het boeide me niet 'It was not really interesting, I was bored by it'
|Beter langharig dan kortzichtig!
'Better long-haired than short-sighted'|
Sixties slogan protesting that school principals ordered long-haired boys to get haircuts
|Alles sal reg kom (South African) 'Everything will [turn out to be] be OK' Ascribed to South-African General De Wet (Generaal De Wet 2)|
|Een appeltje voor de dorst 2 ['a small apple for the thirst'] a nest egg, money put away for bad times|
|De kost gaat voor de baat uit
Cost comes before profit - first, you need to invest.
I used to think this expression meant that when considering a cure, cost is the most important criterium, Dutch frugality, and I used to put the stress in a different place
|'t Mag geen geld kosten '[It can't cost any money] It cannot have a significant cost, we don't want to pay serious money for it.'|
|Daar kun je je geen buil aan vallen
Je kunt je d'r geen buil aan vallen
['You're not going to fall and get a bump'] 'it's not a significant amount of money' - often said to people who are deliberating about a small expense
|Zonde van 't geld
['A pity about the money'] - 'A waste of money,
something not worth the expense'|
Weggegooid geld 2 ['money thrown away'] 'money wasted, pointless spending'
|Er zit geen brood in ['there [sits] is no bread in it'] 'You can't make a living from it, it doesn't generate much income'|
|'t Is geen vetpot ['It's not a pot of grease'] - there is not much money to be made from it|
|De tering naar de nering zetten
'to bring spending in line with income'|
By itself, (de) tering also used to mean 'tuberculosis;' (de) spijsvertering ('food processing') 'digestion'
|Van de hand in de tand leven 'Living on very little money, without a steady source of income'|
|Voor een dubbeltje op de eerste rang 2 3 4 'The best seats in the house for a dime' - said of people who expect the world for a small payment|
|Jobs, Work, Labor|
'rolled-up sleeves' |
In the rivalry between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Rotterdam is seen as the city that works, where people work hard. It is said that when you buy a dress shirt in Rotterdam, it comes with the sleeves already rolled up
|Een goed begin is het halve werk
'A good start is half the work, with a good start you're already
halfway the job'|
Alle begin is moeilijk 2 3 'Every beginning is difficult'
|Goed gereedschap is het halve werk 2 good tools make a job much easier|
|De laatste loodjes wegen het zwaarst ['the final weights are the heaviest'] the final stage of a job is often the most difficult|
|Roeien met de riemen die je hebt
['row with the oars you've got'] - 'make the best of it
working with the material (and people) at hand'|
- another word for 'oar' is: (de) roeispaan 2
|De puntjes op de i zetten 2 "Dotting your i's (and crossing the t's)" - taking care of the final details|
|En klaar is Kees! ['... and Casey is done.'] - said when a job is done, a piece of work finished.|
|'n Fluitje van een cent 2 ['a penny whistle'] 'a very easy piece of work, quickly done and no problem at all'|
|Van een leien dakje
't Gaat van een leien dakje
[Like a slate roof?] The job is going smoothly|
(Maybe slate roofs were a radical improvement?)
't Geheim van de smid
['the blacksmith's secret'] - a special way of doing something,
a craftsman's special ability |
also: (de) slag 2 'knack'
(Not related) Aan de slag!
/or/ Aan 't werk!
To work! Let's get started! Let's start working!|
(A little more formal:) Laten we aan 't werk gaan. 2 Let's get to work, start working. - More phrases with aan 't >>
|Hij gooit er met de pet naar 2 3 ['He's throwing his cap at it'] 'He's not making a serious effort'|
|Op een laag pitje ['On a slow burner'] 'On the back burner' - something given low priority, not pursued vigorously|
|Al doende leert men
['while doing, you learn'] 'practice makes perfect'|
Jong geleerd, oud gedaan 2 3 4 ['learned young, still doing it at old age'] what's learned young will still be easy at old age
|De wind in de zeilen hebben 2 '[Having] Catching the wind in the sails, going full sail' - making good progress, doing well in business|
|'t Gaat me voor de wind 2 'It's like I have the wind in my back' - I'm doing very well (in business)|
|Ik werk me te pletter
'I'm working very hard'|
Ik werk me een ongeluk 2 3 / Ik werk me 'n ongeluk 2 'I'm working ["myself an accident"] very hard'
Both expressions usually indicate a contrast, like that the hard work is no use or doesn't bring in much of an income, or that other people are taking it easy
|Een handje helpen
'to give, lend a hand, to help, assist' -
Ik hielp hem een handje
'I gave him a hand, I helped him'|
But: Een hand geven 2 'to shake hands - Ik gaf hem een hand 2 'I shook hands with him'
|Liever lui dan moe 2 Rather lazy than tired, preferring not making an effort|
|We zullen dat varkentje wel even wassen 3 4 ['Believe me, we'll get that piglet washed'] - 'We'll take care of it, we'll fix it, we'll sure get that job done'|
|Things People Say|
|Bij wijze van spreken 2 3 ['in a manner of speaking'] - "to use a figure of speech"|
|Onder ons gezegd en gezwegen ... 2 ['Spoken and silent between us'] 'Just between you and me ...'|
|'t Is niet waar! ['It's not true!'] - ironic use, like 'You don't say!'|
|Maar niet heus! ['But not really'] 'NOT!'|
|Ik heb het met eigen ogen gezien 2 3 ['I've seen it with my own eyes'] - I witnessed it myself, personally|
|"Rij jij of rij ik?" 2 3 ['Are you driving or am I driving?'] - what an exasperated driver can say to passengers who criticize his or her driving.|
|De bliksem is zeker ingeslagen 2 3 'Lightning must have struck' - said when a traffic light takes long to change|
|Ga toch fietsen!
['go ride a bike!'] - usually an exclamation of frustration with
someone, like 'I don't believe you, stop bothering me, go take a
Chris from Yorkshire suggests the British English equivalent 'On your bike!'
|Ben je gek geworden?
'Have you gone crazy, are you out of your mind?'|
Ben je helemaal gek geworden? 'Have you gone completely crazy, are you out of your mind? What's with you?'
|Ben je gek! 2 3 4 'You must be kidding' - said to someone who gives a wrong (usually complicated) explanation of your actions or motivation|
|Ik word er gek van 'It's driving me crazy'|
|'t Gaat je
niet in de kouwe (koude) kleren zitten
['It's not going to stay in your (cold) outer clothes' but
will penetrate deeper]|
- it affects you, it has an impact on your mood
|'t Gaat me boven de pet 2 'It's over my [cap] head' - I don't understand it, it's too difficult for me|
|Breek me de bek niet open
'[Don't force open my mouth] Don't get me started,
I don't want to talk about it.'|
- But with a strong undertone that the speaker would have a lot of negative things to say about it.
|Ik weet er alles van 2 'I know all about it' - not boasting about academic knowledge but stating familiarity with misfortune and adversity.|
|Beter laat dan nooit 'Better late than never'|
|Langzaam maar zeker 2 3 'Slowly but steadily, slow but sure'|
|Je wordt geflest waar je bij staat
['You're being cheated as you're standing by']
'Some people shamelessly, barefacedly swindle you in your presence'|
Said for instance when you have booked a car or a hotel room in advance but when you get there extra charges come up.
|'t Is geen zuivere koffie
['it's not pure coffee - there's something wrong with that
coffee'] - 'there's something fishy going on'|
Er zit een luchtje aan 2 ['There's a funny smell to it'] - 'there's something fishy about it' - Note that the T of 'luchtje' is dropped
Ik vertrouw 't niet helemaal 2 ['I do not completely trust it'] - 'there's something fishy about it'
|In een kwade reuk staan 2 3 'to have a bad reputation' - So NOT the literal meaning 'being in a place of bad smell'|
|Ik kan er niet bij
literally: 'I can't reach it,' but usually said as 'I don't
understand, it's beyond me,
I can't imagine what's in those people's minds'|
Wat bezielt die mensen? 'What's in those people's minds?' - (de) ziel 'soul'
Wat bezielt die mensen om dat te doen? 2 3 'What makes those people do that?'
|Ik sta nergens meer van te kijken
'Nothing surprises me anymore' - Thank you, Johan!|
't Verbaast me niks 2 'I'm not surprised'
|Ik kon m'n oren niet geloven 2 3 ['I couldn't believe my ears'] - Hearing something incredible or something you had not thought possible|
|Hij keek z'n ogen uit 2 3 He really enjoyed seeing something unexpected|
|Hij had er wel oren naar 2 3 ['he had ears for it'] he'd like to join in (an activity)|
|Laat me niet lachen 2 ['Don't (let) make me laugh'] - 'That's ridiculous'|
|Niks aan te doen! 2 3 / Er is niks aan te doen ['Nothing can be done about it'] 'It can't be helped'|
|Ik kan niet heksen 2 3 ['I can't "witch"' - I don't have supernatural powers] 'I'm doing it as fast as I can'|
|Daar was ik al bang voor 2 'I was already afraid of that'|
|Ik ben het beu
'I'm sick of it, I can't stand it anymore'|
Wat sneu 2 'What a pity, I'm sorry it ended that way'
|Ik baal als een stier
'[I'm annoyed like a bull'] - I am deeply annoyed|
(de) baaldag a day that you call in sick because you're depressed or angry, 'a mental healh sick day' as a colleague used to say
|Ik verveel me te pletter 2 3 'I am bored stiff'|
|Ik lap 't aan m'n laars
['I'm sticking it to my boot'] I don't care about,
I'm ignoring that comment or rule|
You can also say: ik trek me er niks van aan 2 or: ik trek me d'r niks van aan 2 3 with a similar meaning
|Ik werd er helemaal naar van ['It made me feel miserable all over'] - a horrible event or fear made me sick|
|Ik sta te trillen op m'n benen 2 ['I'm shaking on my legs'] - 'I'm trembling with fear or from fatigue'|
|Ik word geleefd ['I am being lived'] - 'I have no life of my own' - duties, demands and obligations leave very little time for myself|
|Ik ben helemaal gaar ['I'm fully cooked'] - I've had it, I'm done for, I've worked on this, lived with this for too long|
|Door schade en schande wijs geworden 2 3 - Door schade en schande '(educated) by damage and shame' - the school of hard knocks|
|Het leed is geleden 2 'The suffering is over'|
|Dat is verleden tijd 2 3 'That is past, that is over' - "That's history"|
|Oud nieuws 2 'old news' - Dat is oud nieuws 2 'That's old news'|
|Geen centje pijn ['Not a penny of pain/trouble'] - 'No sweat, it doesn't (or didn't) take any effort'|
|Als morgen de hemel valt hebben we allemaal een blauwe muts 2 3 'If the sky falls tomorrow we'll all have a blue cap' - said in annoyed reaction to someone bringing up unpleasant scenarios ('now if the train is late, and if there is no coffee on the train ...')|
|Dan is 't voorbij met de pret / Dan is 't uit met de pret 2 / Dan is 't gedaan met de pret 2 3 - ['(And) then it's done with the fun'] -'the fun is over' - said when things return to normal after a respite or go from normal to a much worse situation - a little stronger than 'the honeymoon is over'|
|'t Komt niet zo nauw 2 'There is no need for much precision or strictness, there is a lot of leeway, a wide margin'|
|Opgeruimd staat netjes ['Cleared up, stored away looks neat'] 'Things out of the way looks good'|
|Wat de boer niet kent dat lust-ie niet
['What the peasant doesn't know he doesn't like']|
'The peasant doesn't like the unfamiliar' - commenting on a reluctance to even taste unfamiliar food
|Het oog is groter dan de maag 2 ['the eye is bigger than the stomach'] - said when you can't finish the food you put on your plate|
|Hij lust er wel pap van
['~he would really like it as porridge'
-> he would like it for dessert too, he likes it as much as the dessert]|
- A food or pleasant activity he can't get enough of
|Te veel van 't goede 2 'Too much of a good thing' (say, cherry juice)|
|Hoe groter geest, hoe groter beest 2 3 4 'The greater the mind, the more like a beast' - great intellects often behave badly|
|Waarin een klein land groot kan zijn
'Big things a small country can do, A small country can do big things'
Said when Holland is setting an example
|Holland op z'n smalst
'Holland at its most narrow' - Dutch
is only a part of the country of The Netherlands.
(more.) Before the great land reclamations,
there used to be a narrow strip of land North-West of
Amsterdam connecting two parts of
'Holland.' Later, the expression came to mean 'Dutchmen in their
most narrow-minded attitude.'|
(de) kneuterigheid 'Dutch small-mindedness, pettiness'
- related: (de) betutteling 2 'bureacrats (or others in positions of power) treating people like children'
|Zeer vereerd ['much honored'] - I'm honored|
|Verstand op nul
'I'm shutting down my brain' - often combined with:|
Blik op oneindig 2 3 'Set eye focus to infinity' - 'the thousand-mile stare'?
Said when starting a mindless job or when doing something you don't want to think about.
|Niet voor herhaling vatbaar 2 3 [After a disappointment: 'not to be repeated'] - 'Let's not do (or have) that again'|
|Al is de leugen nog zo snel, de waarheid achterhaalt haar wel 2 3 4 ['However quick a lie may be, the truth will overtake it'] - Lies won't last, truth will come out eventually|
|De uitzondering die de regel bevestigt
'The exception that confirms the rule'|
This is of course a nonsense remark. Logically, if there is an exception a rule is not valid. (Het) tegenvoorbeeld 2 'counter-example.' I read somewhere that the Latin original says something like 'the exception that tests the rule.'
|Drie maal is scheepsrecht
'[three times is ship's law] the third time is the charm'
'Third time lucky' in the UK - Number three is often found in old Western, Indo-European culture
|Bitter in de mond maakt het hart gezond
'bitter in the mouth makes the heart healthy' |
nonsense remark about the supposed health benefits of bitter-tasting medicine or food
|Wat je ver haalt is lekker 2 ['What you get from far away tastes good'] 'Exotic food is always good'|
|Words of Wisdom|
|De mens lijdt het meest van het lijden dat-ie vreest
'Man suffers most from the suffering he fears' -
a sentiment somewhat similar to President Roosevelt's 'The only
thing we have to fear is fear itself' - FDR |
Angst en vrees 'fear and dread' - (de) vrees is when you know what you're afraid of, (de) angst is an undefined fear
|De beste stuurlui staan aan wal
'The best ship officers are on the shore'|
It's easy to criticize from a distance, when you're not involved
|Elk vogeltje zingt zoals 't gebekt is ['Each bird sings as its beak is'] 'You can't change a nature' - 'A leopard can't change its spots.'|
|Over smaak valt niet te twisten 2 '[You can't argue about taste] There's no accounting for taste' De gustibus non disputandum|
|'t Is niet alles goud wat er blinkt 2 'It's not all gold that glitters / Not all shiny things are golden' - 'All that glitters is not gold.'|
|Hoge bomen vangen veel wind ['Tall trees catch much wind'] The high, mighty and famous catch much flak, get a lot of criticism|
|Geduld is een schone zaak 'Patience is good (but difficult)' - 'Patience is a virtue'|
|Beter een goede buur dan een verre vriend 2 'a good neighbor is more useful than a faraway friend'|
|Velen worden geroepen, maar weinigen worden uitgekozen Many are called, but few are chosen|
|Honger maakt rauwe bonen zoet 2 ['hunger makes raw beans sweet'] Want changes your perception|
|Uit het oog, uit het hart 2 3 4 ['out of eye, out of heart'] - 'out of sight, out of mind'|
|Alles grijpt in elkaar 2 'everything is connected, all things hang together'|
|Geen rozen zonder doornen ['No roses without thorns'] 'Nice things always come with problematic attachments'|
|Onkruid vergaat niet 'Weeds can't be killed' - I used to think this meant that the nature of naughty boys can't be changed, but it seems to be more about the permanence of serious evil and profiteering.|
|Wie schrijft, die blijft ['he who writes, stays (in the game)'] - the player who records the scores will not let himself be eliminated|
|'t IJzer smeden als 't heet is
'[Forge] Work the iron when it's hot'|
Je moet ijzer smeden als 't heet is 2 3 'You should work the iron when it's hot' - Do something at the right moment
|Beidt Uw tijd 2 3 'Bide your time' - be patient, wait for the right moment|
|Wie niet waagt, die niet wint
['He who doesn't take risks is not going to [win] gain'] -
'no risk, no gain'|
The English equivalant is a positive statement: 'He who dares, wins' (the motto of the British Army Special Forces unit SAS) - thank you Chris
|Alles met mate 'Be moderate in everything'|
|Beter ten halve gekeerd dan ten hele gedwaald 2 'It's better to [turn] change direction halfway than to be wrong all the way'|
|Gedane zaken nemen geen keer 2 3 'What's done is done' (You can't turn around what's done in the past)|
|Spreken is zilver, zwijgen is goud
['speaking is silver, to keep silent is gold'] - speaking is good,
but keeping silent is better|
'Speech may be silver, but silence is golden'
|Ons koude kikkerland 2 3 'Our chilly frogs' country' - Holland: it's a wretched place but it's home|
|Hij sliep als een os
'He was sleeping like [an ox] a log'|
Hij viel als een blok in slaap 2 3 'He fell asleep very quickly' ('like a log')
|Zo dood als een pier dead like a [rainworm] doornail, dead like disco|
|Zo fris als een hoentje
['as fresh (new?) as a young chicken'] in very good shape, wide
awake, well rested and feeling healthy - 'as fit as a fiddle'|
kiplekker 2 - ik voel me kiplekker 2 'I feel great, couldn't feel better' - it's a mystery to me why chickens are seen as paragons of health
|Op 't nippertje 'in the nick of time, at the last moment, just in time'|
|Uit de losse pols ['from the loose wrist'] - off the cuff, improvising, like for instance giving a very rough estimate|
|Zonder blikken of blozen 2 ['without batting an eye or blushing'] - shamelessly doing something questionable|
|'t Is zwaar te verteren 2 3 [heavy] 'hard to digest' - usually said of unpleasant knowledge or things you have to accept|
|Daar is de Engelse schroevendraaier gebruikt
'The English screwdriver was used there'
- a screw was hammered in|
In English there are many negative phrases with the word 'Dutch,' but in Dutch there are only a few negative mentions of English.
Chris from Yorkshire tells me there is the British expression 'a Birmingham screwdriver' for this bad practice
|Als mosterd na de maaltijd 2 'Like mustard after the meal' - something that comes in too late and is now useless|
|De hond in de pot vinden
['finding the dog in the cooking pot']|
Dan vind je de hond in de pot 2 'Then you'll find the dog in the cooking pot'
- When you're very late for a meal, you may find the dog eating what was left of it - general meaning: coming late you may be left empty-handed
|Roet in 't eten gooien
'throwing soot in the food' - ruining plans
Je moet geen roet in 't eten gooien 'Don't ruin the plans.'
|In geuren en kleuren 2 (3) [in smells and colors] in full detail, an elaborate, lively description|
|Dat is een ander verhaal
'That's another story'|
't Is maar een verhaaltje 'It's only a story'
|De kat op het spek binden 2 ['tying the cat to the bacon'] - (to the speaker) 'a dangerous policy that sets up for failure'|
|De kat uit de boom kijken 2 ['looking the cat out of the tree'] - like a dog not climbing a tree after a cat, 'waiting to see how things develop, taking no action'|
|Ouwe koeien uit de sloot halen 2 [dredging up old cows from the ditch] pointless talk about foregone matters, flogging a dead horse|
|Tussen de wal en 't schip 2 ['(falling) between the quay and the ship'] - 'to fall between two stools'|
|Achter 't net vissen 2 ['fishing behind the net'] - not catching anything, not getting what you want|
|Niet over één nacht ijs gaan 2 3 ['Not walking on ice of one night'] - 'to be careful, to proceed with much caution'|
|Een advies in de wind slaan 2 slow ['Throw an advice to the wind'] - ignoring sensible counsel|
|Kapers op de kust ['pirates on the coast'] - There are competitors about|
|Bij gebrek aan beter 'Lacking a better alternative'|
|Met alle mogelijke middelen
'With all possible means'|
|Vechten tegen de Bierkaai
't Is vechten tegen de Bierkaai
['it's like fighting the Bierkaai'] 'A hopeless struggle you
can't possibly win'|
'De Bierkaai' 2 ('Beer Quay'?) was a rowdy neigborhood in old Amsterdam
|In de aap gelogeerd ['lodging at the Monkey's?'] in trouble, not in a good place|
|Ik lachte me een kriek 'I laughed a lot' [so much that it hurt]|
|Een veer laten ['to drop a feather'] - accept a loss, make a concession|
|Water bij de wijn 2 (doen 2) '(mixing) water into the wine' - going for a compromise|
|Hij houdt z'n poot stijf ['he's keeping his paw stiff'] 'he's not giving in'|
|'t Ligt voor de hand literally: 'it's close at hand,' but it usually means 'it's obvious'|
|Als een mes door de boter 'Like knife [cutting through] butter' - very easily|
|Een druppel op een gloeiende plaat 2 3 ['a drop of water on a red-hot surface'] - 'too little' - a totally ineffective remedy or an attempt to help that falls far short|
|Met de deur in huis vallen ['storming into the house, flattening the door'] to come straight to the point, without delay or hesitation|
|Een heet hangijzer 2 A problem that's hard to handle but not going away|
|De hele santekraam 'The whole shebang, kit and kaboodle'|
|Bepakt en bezakt ['packed and bagged, with packs and bags ready'] Ready for travel|
|Van de hak op de tak springen 2 3 'in conversation, frequently and (apparenty) at random changing the subject'|
|Dag in, dag uit 2 ['Day in, day out'] - Every day|
|Een dag als alle andere 2 3 ['a day like all others'] 'Just another day'|
|Op een blauwe maandag ['On a blue monday'] For a short, insignificant time in the past|
|Met het oog op morgen 2 'With an eye on tomorrow' - taking the future into? consideration|
|De tijd vliegt
'time flies' - 'time passes quickly'|
Waar blijft de tijd? 2 3 4 5 'Where does the time go?' - sadly recalling good things that are past, forever gone
Gezelligheid kent geen tijd 'Time flies when you're having a good time with friends'
|Gebed zonder end
['endless prayer'] something that takes very long
Er komt geen eind aan 2 'There is no end to it, it goes on for a very long time'
't Eind is zoek things are escalating, where will it end?
|Vroeger was alles beter ['In the past everything was better'] 'Everything was better in the past'|
|Uit de oude doos
['from the old box'] 'something old, old-fashioned'|
The common word for 'old-fashioned' is: ouderwets - Dat is zo ouderwets! 'that's so old-fashioned!'
|Zo oud als de weg naar Kralingen
['As old as the road to Kralingen'] - old as the hills|
An old saying that got a new life when the Dutch Woodstock was held in the village of Kralingen (1970)
|Je kunt er geen touw aan vastknopen 2 ['you can't tie a rope to it'] 'it's incomprehensible'|
|Je kunt wel zien uit welke hoek de wind waait 2 ['You can see from which corner the wind is blowing'] 'You can see where that's coming from, what's behind it'|
|En dan komt de aap uit de mouw
['And then the monkey comes out of the sleeve']|
the moment that the hidden motives come out, when it is revealed what's behind something
|Raar maar waar Strange (weird) but true|
|oud zeer ['old hurts'] historical wrongs, unresolved issues from the past|
|Tegen heug en meug 'Doing something under protest, like having to eat something you really don't like'|
|Een bittere pil
'a bitter pill' Something unpleasant you have to get through
or live with|
|(Het is ) boter aan de galg ['It's butter on the gallows'] - something valuable wasted, a useless effort|
Boter op z'n hoofd
- Hij heeft boter op z'n hoofd
['(he has) butter on his head'] - he should stay away from heat
or it will melt - meaning: "he's criticizing others, but
he's not innocent himself: he is a hypocrite" -
'Hij heeft' sometimes contracts as: "hij'ft" - Hij'ft boter op z'n hoofd
|Een koekje van eigen deeg
['a cookie of (your) own dough'] 'a taste of your own
- you yourself getting the bad treatment you thought up for (or already meted out to) others
|Een sigaar uit eigen doos
['A cigar from your own box']
- Something is presented as a gift, but it turns out you have to
pay for it|
Je moet een gegeven paard niet in de bek kijken 2 3 'You shouldn't look into the mouth of a gift horse' - don't criticize a present
|'t Is een aflopende zaak 2 'it's going downhill, it's on its last legs'|
|Onder vier ogen 2 ['Under four eyes'] 'In private, one-on-one conversation'|
|Gevoel van eigenwaarde ['feeling of own-worth'] 'self-esteem'|
|De dorst naar kennis "the thirst for knowledge"|
|De klant is koning
'the customer is king'
the customer's opinion is the most important (we hope)|
|'t Zit als gegoten ['It fits like it was cast'] - said of well-fitting clothes|
|Er is wat aan de hand
'There is something going on'|
Wat is er aan de hand? 'What's going on? What's happening?'
Er is niks aan de hand 2 'There's nothing (unusual) going on'
't Loopt uit de hand 2 3 'It's getting out of hand, escalating, control is lost'
|De teerling is geworpen
'the die is cast' - a risky venture has started, passed a point of
- Dutch teer (teder ) means 'tender, fragile' - I used to think the literal meaning of the phrase was that something vulnerable had been exposed.
|De bom is gebarsten 2 ['the bomb has burst, exploded'] 'The dreaded event has come to pass, things have escalated, come to a head'|
|Alle hens aan dek! 2 3 'All hands on deck' Dutchified English phrase 'All crew to stations'?|
|Er zit geen schot in 2 'There is very little progress, things got stuck'|
|Je kunt er niet omheen 2 3 ['you can't pass around it'] 'You can't ignore it, you'll have to deal with it|
|Het gaat de mist in
['It fades into the fog']
A performance doesn't work out, ends weak - "fades"
Er gaat er wel eens een de mist in 2 Occasionally, a song or a piece fails
|'t Is een uitdaging 2 3 'It's a challenge'|
|In de piepzak zitten 'to be afraid'|
|Met de handen in het haar 2 ['With the hands in the hair'] despairing, not knowing what to do|
|De stilte voor de storm The quiet before the storm, before a major event|
|Geen wolkje aan de lucht 2 [Not a cloud in the sky] No problems are expected|
|Een geluk bij een ongeluk 2 ['a lucky coincidence with an accident'] - a bright, hopeful spot in a bad event|
|'t Kan vriezen en 't kan dooien [It may freeze or it may thaw] Things can go either way|
|'t Is hollen of stilstaan 2 3 4 ['It's either running or staying put'] - 'When it rains, it pours'|
|Als puntje bij paaltje komt 'When push comes to shove, at the moment of truth'|
|Dan zijn we nog verder van huis 2 3 ['Then we'll be even farther from home'] - Making an already bad situation worse|
|Van de regen in de drup 2 3 4 ['From the rain into a drip'] 'From the frying pan into the fire' - a move that didn't improve your already bad situation|
|Maar wij zitten met de gebakken peren 2 3 ['But we are left with the baked pears'] But we are the ones that have to pick up the pieces|
|De druppel die de emmer deed overlopen 2 3 '[The drop that caused the bucket to spill over] The straw that broke the camel's back'|
|Laten we niet te hard van stapel lopen [Let's not launch too quickly] Let's not go ahead too fast|
|Dan heb je de poppen aan het dansen
['Then you'll have the puppets dancing' - the show will start]
- 'then the fat is in the fire, all hell will break loose'|
Dan heb je 't gedonder in de glazen 2 3 4 [probably something like 'then your windows will rattle'] 'then trouble begins, things will get lively'
|Door de rooie gaan
['crossing the red one (red line)'] 'to become irrational'
(because of exhaustion or anger)|
- in colloquial Dutch, the D of rode often softens to a Dutch-J (English consonant-Y) sound: rooie - hear: rood - rode - rooie 2
|Over de schreef gaan 2 ['overstepping the "scratch mark," go beyond the pale'] going too far, into indecent, unacceptable behavior|
|Met de ouderdom komen de gebreken
'With old age, defects appear'|
De dagen zat 2 ['I've had my fill of days'] - 'Tired of the days' - Usually: Oud en de dagen zat 2 3 'Old and tired of life'
|Twee vliegen in één klap
'[two flies in one slam] to kill two birds with one stone' |
I guess the English expression is disappearing because we now frown on killing birds, but flies are still a nuisance.
|Ze zijn aan het goede adres 2 ['They are at the right address'] They came to the right place|
|Bij nader inzien ['Upon closer inspection'] - usually: 'after some refelction, having given it some thought ...'|
|Dan houdt alles op 2 ['Then everything ends'] 'It's no use continuing after that' - often said in reaction to a trivial remark, but with a mock sense of 'that changes everything'|
|Advice, Counsel, Recommendations, Commands|
|Doe niet zo raar!
Don't be weird, get a grip on yourself, behave normally|
Doe niet zo stoer! ['Do not pretend to be that brave'] - behave normally, be modest
|Schiet op! 2 'hurry up!' - usually schieten 2 >> means 'to shoot' - like, a gun.|
|'t Zekere voor 't onzekere nemen
'[to take the certain before the uncertain] to stay on the safe
side' not taking risks|
|Voor alle zekerheid 2 to be on the safe side taking extra precautions|
|Alle beetjes helpen '[All little bits] Every little bit helps'|
|Laat de boel de boel 'Leave things as they are' - stop worrying, take a break|
|Baat het niet, dan schaadt het niet
'If there is no benefit, there will no damage either'|
I always thought this was a bit silly, for there are many harmful things around - but maybe it encourages experimentation with harmless medication or remedies
|Voetjes van de vloer! ['(Little) Feet off the floor'] - "Get dancing!"|
|Hou je hoofd erbij! 2 3 4 ['keep your head at it'] 'stay on top of it, stay focused on the job in hand, don't get distracted'|
|Hou je gedeisd 'don't make a fuss, lay low, don't draw attention to yourself' (from Portuguese deixar)|
|Geen woorden maar daden! 2 ['No words but deeds'] - We want actions, not words|
|Met twee woorden spreken! 2 ['Use two words when you speak'] telling children to speak politely, adding 'thank you' and 'please'|
|De kinderen achter het behang plakken 'glueing the children behind the wallpaper' - many an exasperated parent's secret wish|
|De morgenstond heeft goud in de mond 2 [The dawn hour has gold in its mouth] The early bird gets the worm|
|Als je 't nu niet doet, wanneer dan wel? 2 ['If you don't do it now, when are you?'] - If not now, when?|
|Van uitstel komt afstel 2 3 'Postponement leads to cancellation'|
|Bezint eer ge begint 2 3 'Consider, think before you [start] act'|
|Haastige spoed is zelden goed
'["Hasty speed, speedy haste ..."] Hurry is rarely useful'|
Haast U als U de tijd heeft, dan heeft U de tijd als U haast heeft slow slow2 'Hurry when you have time, then you'll have time when you're in a hurry'
|Wie zonder zonden is, werpe de eerste steen
'Let him who is without sin throw the first stone'|
Jesus addressing the people who want to stone an adulterous woman - John 8:7 ('werpe' is an old-fashioned imperative)
|Na regen komt zonneschijn 2 3 4 [After rain the sun will come out] Bad things don't last|
|Achter de wolken schijnt de zon 2 ['Behind the clouds, the sun is shining'] - 'Look further and you'll see things aren't all bad'|
|Niet bij de pakken neerzitten
['Don't sit down with your burdens'] - keep going, don't let misfortune
get you down|
Stoett says it's from the Bible, a packed donkey that lies down can't get up again.
|Vraag niet waarom
"Ask not why," 'Do not ask why'|
Waarom? Daarom. 'Why? Because.'
Waarom zijn de bananen krom? 'Why are bananas [crooked] not straight?' - rhetorical question, often said when there is no answer to another 'why?'
|Wee je gebeente!
['woe to your bones' (I'll break them all)]
a warning, not really a threat|
Dan ben je nog niet jarig! 2 3 'It won't be (feel) like your birthday ...' - a warning, not really a threat - Birthday
|Dan moet je vroeger opstaan 2 3 'Then you'll have to get up earlier' - i.e. for that you'll have to be more alert and more active|
|Schoon schip maken ['clean the ship'] To remove old problems for a fresh start|
|De bakens verzetten
'[moving the beacons] setting a new course' -
figuratively: change to a new policy
Het roer omgooien ['turning around the rudder'] drastically changing course
|Water naar de zee dragen 2 ['Carrying water to the sea'] 'Carrying coal to Newcastle' - engaging in a pointless act|
|Iemand een poets bakken
'to play a trick, a practical joke on someone' |
|Geen sjoege geven 2 'giving no reaction, showing no emotion' (from Yiddish)|
|Stennis maken 2 'to cause a commotion, get rowdy, raise a stink' (from Yiddish)|
|'t Kaf van 't koren scheiden ['Separating the chaff from the wheat'] - Separating the useful from the useless, the men from the boys, the sheep from the goats|
|Praten over koetjes en kalfjes 2 ['Talking about (little) cows and calves, irrelevant things'] - To chat, make smalltalk|
|Pappen en nathouden
['Apply paste and keep wet'] - applying and maintaining
a wound dressing|
Keep going in adverse circumstances, persevering in a less than ideal situation - but not looking for a radical solution
|Een frisse neus halen '(going outside) to get [a fresh nose] some fresh air'|
|Ik ga even een blokje om 2 'I'll go for a short walk [around the block]' - even 2 'for a moment'|
|Oost west, thuis best 2 ['East, West - home is best'] 'Home sweet home, there is no place like home'|
|Zoals 't klokje thuis tikt, tikt het nergens 2 3 4 5 ['There is no place where the clock ticks like at home'] 'Home sweet home'|
|Ik ben een beetje een huismus
['I have something of a house sparrow'] 'I don't get out
huismus 2 "house sparrow"
|De macht der gewoonte
['the power of habit'] - it's hard to break a routine|
der is an old-fashioned form of 'van de' (of the) - (de) gewoontemens 2 3 'creature of habit'
De Macht van Het Kleine 2 ['The Power of The Little Thing'] a charity that collects small donations, something like The March of Dimes
|Tegen beter weten in 2 3 'Against my (or her or his) better judgement'|
'too much hassle' -
Dat is teveel gedoe
'that's too much hassle'|
Wat een gedoe! 2 'Such a hassle!'
Veel gedoe om niks 'much ado about nothing'
|Wat een onzin! 2 'Such nonsense!'|
|'t Is niet leuk meer 2 'It's not enjoyable anymore, the fun is gone'|
|Ben je helemaal geschuffeld? 2 'Are you crazy, are you out of your mind?'|
See and hear also Dutch Fun Phrases -
Talking about The Weather
- Food and Drink
- Speaking Dutch, Speaking about Dutch
Copyright © Marco Schuffelen 2012.
All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed,
or hotlinked to.
Conversations Template - Alliterations
Don't be a dief (thief) / dievegge (female thief) - diefstal (theft) - stelen (to steal) - heler (dealer in stolen goods) - hear Dutch - 2
Copyright © Marco Schuffelen 2012.
All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, redistributed,
or hotlinked to.