Dutch words in the English language you’d never expect

Dutch words in the English language you’d never expect

The Netherlands may be a small country, but its colonial past and rich maritime trade history enabled the Dutch language to leave a lasting mark in languages all across the globe.

Dutch linguist and etymologist Nicoline van der Sijs spent many years mapping out and tracing Dutch words in many different languages, and put the fruits of her labour online and available to the public.

So how did Dutch influence the English language?

Dutch words in American English

In 1609 the first Dutch, Flemish and Frisian colonists arrived on the American east coast where they founded the colony called Nieuw Nederland.

It was taken over by the British in 1664, but in spite of that the Dutch language lasted a very long time on the eastern seaboard of the U.S..

The language survived into the 20th century and even evolved into two homegrown Dutch dialects: Jersey Dutch and Mohawk Dutch.

The bulk of the words adopted from the early Dutch settlers are what the Dutch call huis-tuin-en-keukenwoorden (house, garden and kitchen words), i.e. words used in everyday life.

Examples of these include bakoven (baking oven) and beddenpan (bed pan).

The following English words evolved from Dutch, and the English versions still bear a close resemblance to their Dutch origins:
boss: baas
cookie: koekje
coleslaw: koolsalade
dope: doop
dollar: daalder
Santa Claus: sinterklaas
Yankee: Jan-Kees

Dutch words in British English

The oldest Dutch words in the English language are related to the maritime trade between the Netherlands and the British isles.

Examples from that era include boeg (bow), harpoen (harpoon), kabel (cable) and kielhalen (keelhauling).

The popular word game Scrabble has its origins in the Dutch language, from schrabbelen or krabbelen.

The English word "drugs" can be traced back to the Dutch word droog (dry), which was first adopted by the French language as referring to a dry ingredient for preparing medicine with.

Then its meaning evolved into "fake medicine", after which it became the word for "foul-tasting drink". Finally droog turned into the English "drug", with its current meaning.

An interesting example of how certain words really evolve through the years is the Dutch name Dirk, which originally was the name of a specific Dutch torturer and executioner.

The English turned the name into the word "derrick", with various meanings: executioner (beul), gallow (galg), crane (kraan), telegraph pole (telegraafpaal) and drill tower (boortoren). It is the last one that stuck in the end (oil derrick).

Van der Sijs found a total of 1.500 borrowed Dutch words in the English languages. The following are still in use today in both Dutch and English.
bluff: bluffen
brandy: brandewijn
iceberg: ijsberg
gin: jenever
golf: kolf
cruise: kruisen
skate: schaats
sketch: schets
skipper: schipper
snack: snakken
ticket: steken
wagon: wagen

Source: Sijs, Nicoline van der (2015), Uitleenwoordenbank, hosted by Meertens Instituut

Do you know of Dutch words in other languages? Or if you need to brush up on your language skills, check out these Dutch courses all over the country!

Thomas Lundberg


Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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