Idioms—or turns of phrase—are a form of cultural understanding. These are the phrases that those who learn a language hunger to master. When in Rome, as the idiom goes.
Such phrases are also a kind of mnemonic device—an aid that helps you remember vocabulary and cultural patterns or beliefs.
10 FUNNY, SMART, AND CREATIVE DUTCH IDIOMS
The Dutch have a whole bunch of idioms spanning all manner of topics. Many of them are actually really funny.
Getting started in learning them, however, doesn’t even require a language class, although maybe a class on the Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder might help. In his classic painting, Netherlandish Proverbs, he visually represents over 100 commonly used Dutch proverbs, many of which are still widely used today.
Beyond Bruegel, here are a few idioms to get you on your way, if not make your friends laugh.
1: HELAAS PINDAKAAS!
• Literal translation: “Unfortunately, peanut butter”
• Meaning: Too bad! In other words, this is not the result you wanted.
• Literal translation: “Monkey tail”
• Meaning: The @ sign in an email. It sort of looks that way…
3: EEN FLUITJE VAN EEN CENT
• Literal translation: “The whistle of a penny”
• Meaning: When something is easy (just like blowing in a pennywhistle—no skill is needed).
4: ALSOF ER EEN ENGELTJE OVER JE TONG PIEST
• Literal translation: “As if an angel is peeing on your tongue”
• Meaning: When you’re really enjoying something you’re eating. Presumably, the urine of an angel is sweeter than anyone else’s.
5: IEMAND ONDER VIER OGEN SPREKEN
• Literal translation: “A conversation between four eyes”
• Meaning: To have a private conversation with one other person (with a total of four eyes between them).
6: ACHT IS MEER DAN DUIZEND
• Literal Translation: “Eight is more than a thousand”
• Meaning: Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves. This is a play on words too. Acht, or eight, is also a homonym for “careful attention”.
7: ALS DE KAT VAN HUIS IS, DANSEN DE MUIZEN OP TAFEL!
• Literal translation: “When the cat is away, the mice dance on the table”
• Meaning: When the boss is not looking, employees will make a mess/misbehave.
8: AL DRAAGT EEN AAP EEN GOUDEN RING, HET IS EN BLIJFT EEN LELIJK DING
• Literal translation: “Even though a monkey wears a golden ring, it is and always will be an ugly thing”
• Meaning: You cannot cover up inadequacy with showy decoration.
9: DE RATTEN VERLATEN HET ZINKENDE SCHIP
• Literal translation: “Rats fleeing a sinking ship”
• Meaning: An organisation in trouble will be quickly abandoned by those who associate with it.
10: BEN JE VAN DE TRAP GEVALLEN?
• Literal translation: “Did you fall down the stairs?”
• Meaning: Did you just get a drastic haircut.
These 10 idioms only begin to scratch the surface of the wonderful and playful Dutch language. Learn these turns of phrase and more to sound like a local next time you visit the Netherlands!