Ten Dutch words that made it into English

Dutch may be a struggle to learn but hey, you know a good few Dutch words already. Here’s 10 that have sneaked into the English language.

1. Baas turned into boss. The true origin of the word is a bit blurry but a Dutch ship’s captain was called ‘baas’ in the 17th century, as, presumably, in ‘De baas heeft de Britten weer eens een poepje laten ruiken’, or The boss licked the Brits in another sea battle’.

A vrolijk Dutch family

A vrolijke Dutch family

2. Vrolijk (cheerful, jolly) found its way into English as frolic, a romp. Possibly this reflects the historic  perception of the Dutch as gin-swilling, heavy-footed merry makers. Now the Dutch can be as elegantly vrolijk as the next nationality.

3. Grof (coarse) turned into gruff in English. Is this another character trait attributed to the Dutch? It is called ‘direct’ in today’s speech.

4. Kielhalen became keelhauling, probably because the Dutch liked to do a lot of it. It’s one of many nautical terms the seafaring Dutch contributed to the English language. Baas (boss), sloep (sloop), yacht (yacht), schoener (schooner) and, inevitably, wrak (wreck) are some of them.

5. Kwakzalver was shortened to quack. Have a look at Jan Steen’s version of one in the Rijksmuseum. His paintings provide an interesting peek into the lives of ordinary people in the 17th century.

Don't take more than one

Don’t take more than one

6. Koekje became cookie. ‘Koekje erbij?’, or would you like a cookie with that? was a successful advertisement slogan for Liga biscuits which made fun of the Dutch idea that things don’t get ‘gezelli’ until you are offered a biscuit.

7. Dijk turned into dike. Well, obviously. The Dutch never stopped talking about dikes and the word seeped into the English language through sheer force of usage.

There is no escaping accijns

There is no escaping accijns

8. Accijns turned into excise by way of excijs, or tax. A Dutch invention if ever there was one.

9. Droge waere. A middle Dutch phrase meaning ‘dry wares’. This may be the origin of ‘drugs’ (drugs (medication) consisted of herbs) (pronounced ‘druks’ in Dutch as in Hij is aan de druks, he is on drugs)

10. Polder, pomp became polder and pump, another obvious reference to the Dutch obsession with getting that darned water out and keeping it out.

26 thoughts on “Ten Dutch words that made it into English

  1. Aukje

    Hi- i miss the word apartheid- as one of the words that has been taken up in international language. And there must be many more literally taken over, not anglicised…
    Cheers, aukje

    1. Linn

      I believe the word apartheid is not Dutch, but Afrikaans. As Afrikaans is a different language from Dutch, which derived from both Dutch and several other (African) languages. As most of the vocabulary still consists of words of Dutch origin, the mistake is understandable. A similar example is ‘Rooibos’, which is also printed on tea sold abroad. Not because the packaging is Dutch, but because the tea was grown in South-Africa.

  2. Jan

    Santaclaus (Santa) originates from the dutch Sinterklaas if you look up the history of the American santa which later was exported back to The Netherlands becoming the Kerstman.

      1. H.G.Scheltema

        OK is most often considered to have been derived from the signature of US president Martin van Buren (of Dutch descent!) who signed with OK, meaning Old Kinderhook (Upstate New York), where he lived.

  3. Carin Rempe

    Breedstraat = Broad way, and so on.. i remember there was a word voor etalage ( used to be schaprade) that became escaparate, and something in english i can´t remember now..

  4. nico Smit

    What about bowsprit and Iceberg. And apartheid is really Dutch. Afrikaans isn’t a proper language, but is in fact a kind of Dutch dialect.

    1. Suzanne Ronelle

      Ekskuus?? No. Afrikaans is a completely different language. Mixed-germanic in origin, but a modern language that is completely different from Hollands/Dutch. Baie dankie.

  5. H.G.Scheltema

    A good book about the subject is:
    Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages , by nicoline van der Sijs

  6. Martinus

    What to think about the white and the black rhino! I know only two sorts which are both grey.
    First there were the dutch (in South Africa), they saw a ‘wijdlip’ and a ‘puntlip’ rhino. (difference in shape of the mouth) the english heard about the ‘wijdlip’ and understood white. So they changed the sort in white and off course, the other one should be black then. Later on the dutch translated it back in their own language in ‘wit’ and ‘zwart’!

  7. Catinka

    I love the New York names for all their neighbourhoods. Like Harlem= Haarlem Brooklin=Breukelen… there are probably more?

  8. Marina

    The English word Offal comes from the Dutch word Afwal which means rubbish.

    I sometimes wonder if the English word Awful has the same origins?

  9. Lm

    Nautical: buoy from the dutch ‘boei’ (pronounced as boooy’ and dinghy from the dutch ‘dinkie’
    Also: capstan, poopdeck


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