Get creative when speaking Dutch!

Get creative when speaking Dutch!

Paid partnership

Language is a pretty wonderful thing. It allows us to communicate and convey information in so many different ways. UVA Talen encourages people to get creative when speaking Dutch and has provided some nifty and imaginative ways to better communicate and improve your Dutch.

Language is always changing

Language is not static, it is a living thing and changes over time. We are all language users and sometimes even language creators. New words emerge all the time, for example when new technology is developed, and every new generation has its own vocabulary; something to keep in mind when you are working on a translation.

You can often tell a person’s age by their word use. Dutch millennials find everything "chill", for Generation X the word was "cool" and baby boomers said "hip" and "tof". Have you ever heard the saying "he is not the coolest beer in the fridge"? It means that someone is not the coolest (or hip-est, or chill-est) person.

Sandwich shortage

If you want to say that a person is not very smart, you could describe them by saying "he is not the sharpest tool in the shed", with sharp referring to being clever. In the same vein, "he is not the brightest lamp in the street" means that someone is not very bright or smart. You can even take it a step further by saying "he is one sandwich short of a picnic", or, in Dutch, "hij heeft ze niet alle 24 in het kratje" (he hasn’t got all 24 beer bottles in the crate) or "hij heeft ze niet allemaal op een rijtje" (he hasn’t got them all in a row).

Other languages have similar sayings. In Norwegian, when you think somebody is dumb, you can say "Han er ikke den skarpeste kniven i skuffen" (not the sharpest knife in the drawer) or "lyset er på, men ingen er hjemme", meaning "the lights are on but nobody’s home", which is used in English as well. You can also say this when someone does not respond to you right away because they are thinking about something else. Are there phrases like this in your language too?

Too bad, peanut butter?

When something goes wrong or you miss out on something, you can jokingly say "helaas pindakaas" in Dutch, literally "too bad, peanut butter". It is a way to express that something is a shame but that there is not much you can do about it. The addition of "pindakaas" does not really mean anything, but it sounds nice because it rhymes and it is funny because it does not make sense. The same goes for "jammer de bammer"; "bammer" does not even exist as a separate word, but in combination with "jammer" it functions as a way to add emphasise and to bring some light-heartedness to a potentially bad situation.

In German, it is not peanut butter but jam or chocolate: "schade schade, Schokolade" or "schade schade Marmelade" (shame, shame, chocolate / jam). In English you could say "too bad so sad", although this has quite a negative connotation and can be used if you are trying to be really sarcastic. In Norway, by way of goodbye, you can say "Ha det på badet din gamle sjokolade", which literally means "goodbye in the bathroom, you old chocolate". It does not seem to make much sense, but it rhymes, so there you go.

Create your own

Language is flexible and it can be great fun to get creative and play around with words, something translators do every day. Do you have sayings like the ones mentioned above in your language, and can you think of your own variations? Maybe you could even try to create your own sayings. The options are endless, just go with the flow! Or, as the Dutch say, "gaan met die banaan!" (literally "go with that banana", meaning something can go ahead: "let’s go"). And remember: I’m not a complete idiot, some parts are missing…

UVA Talen is the independent language centre of the University of Amsterdam and one of the largest translation agencies in the Netherlands. They offer language courses, as well as translating, editing and interpreting services for businesses and governmental organisations. Visit the UVA Talen website to see what their team of professional translators and editors can do for you.

Maite François


Maite François

Maite works as a proofreader and translator at UvA Talen. She loves gardening, singing, watching football and cycling around Amsterdam.

Read more



Leave a comment