11 false friends in Dutch

All is not what is seems with the following words.

1. The English translation for witlof is chicory, you know the white leaves (bit of olive oil, tiny amount of mustard and lemon, and a handful of walnuts) with the  bitter taste. It is also called Belgian endive which is where the confusion begins for andijvie (mix almost raw with mashed potatoes and fried bacon) which is translated as curly endive, is, although from the same family, an entirely kettle of endives.

What's in a name?

What’s in a name

Here’s a mnemonic device in case you find yourself at the vegetable stall in the market and it’s too far to point: Witlof is white. Don’t ask for ‘chicorei’ in your desperation: it is something else entirely which we won’t go into because it’ll only add to the confusion.

2.  Half negen is 8.30 in the Netherlands whereas in Britain is means half past nine. Many a relationship must have been nipped in the bud because of this.

3. Eekhoorn, in spite of of sounding like acorn (well, sort of) does not mean acorn. It means squirrel. Squirrels do like acorns but these are called ‘eikels’ in Dutch. A squirrel which can’t find its acorns could be called a bit of an ‘eikel’ which doubles up as ‘dickhead’ in  English

4. Isolatie is both insulation and isolation. ‘Het dak is goed geïsoleerd’ means that the roof is well-insulated not that it is up there all alone.

5. Zonde is not so much a false friend as a duplicitous one. It means both sin and wastefulness. Are you throwing these vegetables away?, a frugal Dutch friend might say. Wat zonde! She/he isn’t calling you a sinner for doing it (but she/he’s not far off).

Is that chicory you are throwing away there?

Is that chicory you are throwing away there?

6. Schuld is another example of that classic Dutch Calvanism, meaning both debt and guilt. No wonder the Dutch don’t like credit cards.

7. An ondernemer is not an undertaker – as in the appocryphal story about the Dutch minister who got this wrong on a foreign trip. An ondernemer is an entrepreneur – or someone who undertakes things. A begrafenisondernemer, however, is an undertaker. An undertaker can be an entrepreneur at the same time.

8. Actueel means topical in English, not actual. Actual is ‘feitelijk’

9. Chef in Dutch means boss, but never in a restaurant kitchen.

10. Dapper in Dutch means brave, not neat and spruce.

11. Ask your Dutch hairdresser for a pony and you will get a fringe cut to your eyes, not have your hair pulled back into a tail at the back of your head.

We'll go for the windswept look

We’ll go for the windswept look

Got more examples – do let us know.


10 thoughts on “11 false friends in Dutch

  1. Ingrid

    Another example? Ramp – disaster. Or the other way around: hellingbaan – ramp.
    A nice one too is bier. What you call a bier, we call a lijkbaar. And what we call beer, you call bear.

  2. Theo

    Slim means smart / clever

    Eerste verdieping (first floor) means second floor! Because our first floor is called ‘begane grond’ (ground floor). Another reason to mess up appointments in hotels and such 🙂

    And watch out for talking prices in the Netherlands: until twenty everything is peachy, above twenty the troubles begin:
    een, twee, drie,vier, vijf, zes, zeven, acht, negen, tien (1 to 10)
    elf, twaalf, dertien, veertien, vijftien, zestien, zeventien, achttien, negentien, twintig (11 to 20)

    But then!
    eenentwintig translates to one-and-twenty meaning twentyone
    achtenzeventig translates to eight-and-seventy meaning seventyeight.
    so it’s the other way round compared to english: first the small digit, then the larger digit.

    This poses many problems for the dutch when having to name the price in english:
    so if a dutch shopowner says “that’s fortyseven euros” there is a real chance that he actually means seventyfour euro’s. Be careful, have it written down or reply with ‘that’s forty and seven euro’s, right?.

  3. Gerda Kooger

    In Australian English witlof ís used for British chicory. So I learnt, to my surprise, from Masterclass Australia.

  4. Paul de Kort

    Panty (nl) = pantyhose
    slip (nl) = undergarnment for the lower half of the body (mostly used for women undergarnment, allthough there are mannenslips (male undergarnment) too).

  5. Mavadelo

    When playing poker there is often said “I call” . spoken by certain people (or by computer opponents in case of pc gaming) I always feel insulted for Eikel

    Love your blog… following

  6. Tim S

    When I was skiing down a black run with my then soon to be father-in-law (schoonvader) he stated quite unequivocally through shortness of breath ‘mooi steil’. I believed him to be stating that I looked rather good and had good style skiing down this run only to find out that he actually meant ‘pretty steep’.


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