A list of “advanced Dutch” terms compiled by Amsterdam-based director Lyangelo Vasquez went properly viral on Twitter. Vasquez deciphered the meaning behind oft used double Dutch phrases like “nou nou” (“slightly less than medium impressed”) and “hè hè” (“finally”), and the post seemed to speak to thousands of foreign-born people on a spiritual level: it’s been favourited 13,000 times and is making the rounds on Facebook and Instagram.
he he = finally
ja ja = i don’t believe you
ho ho = wait a minute
zo zo = well well well
poe poe = wow, medium impressed
nou nou = slightly less than medium impressed
— Lyangelo Vasquez (@Lyangelo) October 30, 2018
But there are dozens of Dutch words that are understood more as a feeling or mood. Yeah yeah yeah, everyone knows “gezellig” and its famous indefinability, but it is far from the only Dutch-ism that needs a sentence or two to explain rather than translate.
You know exactly what it is and you have almost certainly adopted it as a loan word in your English vocabulary. It is technically just getting drinks, but it does not have to involve alcohol. Bitterballen are almost certainly present (now that I think of it, how does one even describe “bitterballen” other than “fried balls of molten lava gravy”?). The meaning depends on the form: “borreltje” itself refers to an alcoholic beverage of some sort, a borrel can happen indoors or outdoors at any time of year (but one does not simply borrel before noon), and borrelen is the act of getting a drink.
This one has its roots in the north and is even recognised as immaterial cultural heritage in Drenthe by UNESCO. It refers to the tradition on New Year’s Eve of shooting carbides, preferably out of milk cans. Everyone who has lived here long enough is all too familiar with the Dutch obsession with shooting off fireworks to mark the end of the year, but the north does it a little bit differently. This extremely loud and more than a little dangerous pastime requires sprinkling chunks of carbide stone into a milk can, adding water, closing the lid to let gas form, setting it on fire and then blowing the lid off.
Somehow, this means “day” or a period of 24 hours. It is used to describe things that only happen a certain number of times a day. This word to explain a unit of time dates all the way back to the 13th century, and is linked to agriculture: “etten” is an old fashioned synonym for “grazing”, and “maal” still means “time” (as in “eenmalig”, which means “one time”).
This one obviously actually has a translation – municipality – but it seems to be a word that most foreign-born folks have accepted as a loan word. The Dutch term is a mere three syllables as opposed to the seven in mu-ni-ci-pa-li-ty, so it’s probably just a matter of efficiency and convenience to refer to going to the “gemeente” in the middle of an otherwise English sentence.
This word can mean almost anything depending on the context. In principle, it is meant to describe things that taste good. You can excitedly tell your waiter that your dinner was “heel lekker”, but it does not stop there. A good looking person can be “lekker”. You can wish someone goodnight by telling them to “slaap lekker”. You can enjoy a long walk by “lekker wandelen”. You can savour an extra hour in bed by “lekker uitslapen”. You can tell someone to piss off and basically deport themselves by saying “lekker opdonderen” (we do not recommend this in polite conversation, or at all, really).
“Thinking together”. It is kind of like brainstorming, but it is likelier to refer to deliberately making sure that everyone who should be involved is included in discussions. This is a very polder-y word, and it comes up a whole lot in academic settings.
Melig is a mood. When I came across the word in the lyrics to a Christmas song by beloved Dutch cabaret performer Herman Finkers, “Van Japan tot Yokohama”, I turned to my fellow altos in my choir to ask what it meant. We quickly concluded that it is pretty much untranslatable in a word or phrase. “It’s kind of the way that you feel on Friday afternoon”, one said. It also technically means “floury” when referring to baking, but in a vibe sense, it is akin to feeling giddy, loopy, silly or punchy. It is characterised by cracking a lot of corny, punny jokes that are just on the edge of driving everyone around you to distraction.
Okay, this one is quite rude in Dutch. It literally means “ant buggerer”, and it figuratively refers to someone who is a stickler for the rules, but it goes beyond that. It is someone who is really obsessed with the tiniest details. Anal retentive might just about cover it, but the Dutch version is infinitely more colourful and visual. Another insect-related expression – “muggenziften” (“mosquito sifting”) – is slightly less vulgar and is also used to describe a person who is painfully nit-picky (also a bug-ism!).
It pretty much means someone who lives in Groningen, but it is a subtle term with connotations about age, background and even class. The implication is that students are not technically included under the label of “stadjer”, and it is unclear how long someone has to have lived there to qualify for the label. You might have to have been born in Groningen to qualify. The closest English equivalent is “townie” since it evokes a feeling of someone who has been a fixture of a place for as long as anyone can remember.
This was my own contribution to the double Dutch word list since it was a new one for me upon moving here. It may even be a micro-generational term that has been embraced by current university students and recent graduates, but seems to have skipped over the 30+ crowd. It refers to the home where your parents live and typically the house where you grew up, but it literally means “home home”. It is meant to stand in contrast to the room where you live in the city as a student, but for thousands of Dutch university attendees, “thuisthuis” is still the place you call home while getting your degree. The counterpart to this – “op kamers” – is similarly slippery to define, but it means the room you live in after moving out of mom and dad’s house.
The closest English translation is an idiom: “blow away the cobwebs”. But that still really only gets at part of this term. It’s a little bit “getting some fresh air”, a little bit “clearing my head”, a smattering of the Victorian idea of convalescing by the sea, and a lot of walking. During the fall break, “even uitwaaien” is a popular pastime for Dutch people. It usually happens on a beach or one of the islands and inevitably includes a brisk walk into the wind, wellies on, cheeks flushed, letting the strong sea-scented gusts help you air out physically and mentally. “Uitwaaien” does not seem to happen in the summer time: a quick check of Instagram reveals 58,525 posts with the hashtag #uitwaaien featuring people clad in winter coats on a stretch of sand.
Dutchreview beat us to this one (and uitwaaien, actually), but it is a good one to have in your vocabulary as the season of gourmetten and Kerstdiners is nearly upon us. The literal translation is “out-bellying”, and it is describing that feeling when you are full after a good meal and just have to sit around while your body digests your food. Belt buckles may or may not be loosened, and elastic waist bands or even changing into your pyjamas may be required to really get into the uitbuiken spirit. This can be combined with natafelen (“after table-ing”): lingering at the table for a good conversation after dinner.
Are there good translations in other languages besides English for these concepts? Do you know of any uniquely Gronings, Fries or Drents words that have no equivalent in Dutch? Let us know!