11 useful Dutch sayings involving animals

In both Dutch and English you can catch bulls by the horns and run around like headless chickens but in Dutch you can also:

Wash a pig. If someone says: Ik zal dat varkentje wel eens wassen they mean that they will tackle this job good and proper.

They're doing a fine job

They’re doing a fine job

Be as stoned as a shrimp. This entered the language thanks to comedian Kees van Kooten who had a hit with his carnival song parody Stoned als een garnaal. Listen to it here.

Be poedelnaakt, or as naked as a poodle. Except the word nothing to do with poodles and comes from poedelen, or splashing about in the bath.

Well, the back legs look pretty shaven

Well, the back legs look pretty shaven

Have your sheep on dry land. If you have your schaapjes op het droge you are rich.

Be caught in dog’s weather or hondenweer. You wouldn’t send your dog out in it. Unless you give him a little raincoat.

Just what every self-respecting pet needs

Just what every self-respecting pet needs

Take the hare’s path. Het hazenpad kiezen, or scarper

Be as bald as nits. Slightly puzzling. Nits don’t commonly have hair but there is probably a connection between a shaven head as a consequence of having nits, hence Zo kaal als de neten.

You won't be needing this then

You won’t be needing this then

See a monkey appear from a sleeve. Daar komt de aap uit de mouw means Aha! Now we know what’s really at the bottom of this.

Be as healthy as a fish, or zo gezond al seen vis. Surely a remnant of less polluted times. You can also have butter with the fishboter bij de vis – which means you pay for goods and services  straight away.

But did you pay the bill?

But did you pay the bill?

Be in the presence of a man and a half and a horse’s head. Did lots of people come to your birthday party? No, anderhalve man en een paardenkop. It means a sprinkling of people. Note that the Dutch use ‘kop’ instead of ‘hoofd’ for the noble animal that is the horse, presumably to stress the piffling number of people.

Were they at your party?

Were they at your party?

There are lots of other animal sayings in Dutch. Vooruit met de geit and send them to us.


11 thoughts on “11 useful Dutch sayings involving animals

  1. Toeps

    “Dat ziet toch geen hond” means “nobody will notice”, or, literally, no dog will notice.

    Hilarious moment with my interns from Belgium: apparently they say “Dat ziet toch geen kat”, or, no cat will notice!

  2. Peter

    Een ezel stoot zich geen twee keer aan dezelfde steen. “A donkey doesn’t hit itself twice on the same stone”. In essence meaning: even a donkey is not so stupid as to make the same mistake twice.

  3. Peter

    Één zwaluw maakt nog geen zomer. “One swallow does not make it summer”. -> You might have lucked out, let’s wait and see…

  4. Anne

    How about ‘De hond in de pot vinden’, finding your dog in your dining pans. Meaning you are (way) to late for dinner and all is eaten. More figuratively it also means that one will get nothing since everybode else have gotten everything.
    Or ‘wanneer de kat van huis is, dansen de muizen op tafel’, when the cat leaves the house, the mouses will dance on your (dining) table. This one is very transparant, since it means that when a authorative figure leaves his flock, the flock will turn to anarchy.


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