Four useful phrases made famous by Dutch statesmen

Four useful phrases made famous by Dutch statesmen

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The Direct Dutch Institute recommends speaking Dutch as often as possible - even if all your Dutch colleagues speak English, and even if you only know a few words of Dutch.

We all know and use phrases like "Liberty, equality, fraternity" (Robespierre, 1790), "Never was so much owed by so many to so few" (Churchill, 1940) or "Ask not what your country can do for you" (Kennedy, 1961).

They come in handy, not only because they reveal a little bit of political history, but also because you can use them to make your point in many a discussion.

What similar phrases can you use in Dutch, a language brimming over with thousands of idioms, expressions and slogans?

Ruud Hisgen of the Direct Dutch Institute discusses four famous phrases which were introduced into the language by Dutch statesmen over the span of five centuries.

1. Ik zal handhaven - I will uphold (1565)

On the Dutch coat of arms, a fierce sword-brandishing lion can be seen. It is a French speaking lion: "Je maintiendrai" (literally: I shall maintain). The slogan is a heraldic device belonging to the House of Orange Nassau.

In 1565, William of Orange, father of the fatherland, used it to proclaim that his family will always uphold Virtue, Nobility, His Name, Honour, Faith and the Laws of God, the King, his Friends and his own. Quite a lot to uphold. Gosh, what a responsibility.

In 1815, his descendants had forgotten all about Virtue, Nobility etc., and King William I made it the device of the Dutch Kingdom. These past two centuries, the lion has been saying: "I will uphold the Kingdom".

Whenever you want to make clear that you’re up to some burdensome task, all you have to do is mumble modestly to your colleagues: "Ja, maar ik zal handhaven!"

2. Eendracht maakt macht - Union is strength/United we stand, divided we fall (1581)

The Dutch Republic (1581-1795) and the French occupiers used a Latin text by the Roman historian and politician Sallust who lived in the days of Julius Caesar (c 40 BC) as a motto: "Concordia res parvae crescunt", meaning "with concord small things increase".

In comparison to other states (the Spanish, the French), the Republic may have been extremely small, but watch out; when the Dutch unite their powers, they are able to fight the enemies off and grow as a nation. And so they did!

Together with the now-familiar fierce-looking lion brandishing his sword, this text appeared on several coins and coats of arms.

This slogan is very handy when you are a manager who believes in teamwork. Just start every meeting with the above slogan and maybe your colleagues will start to believe it and act accordingly.

3. Ik worstel en kom boven - I struggle and emerge (1585)

You must have noticed that both the coat of arms of the Netherlands and that of Zeeland show the same fierce lion. The Zeeland lion, however, is stronger because it rises out of the sea without a sword.

The country’s struggle against the sea, is, what most Dutchmen think, the true meaning of this iconic heraldic figure. And whenever they think of floods and refer to the power and strength of Dutch water management, they will proudly quote the above slogan. Some will even quote the original Latin text "Luctor et emergo" to show off.

Coat of Arms Zeeland Netherlands

Sculpture of Queen Wilhelmina Statue Queen Wilhelmina The Hague Netherlands

However, the truth is that the rebellious lion wasn’t struggling to rise out of the sea. No, in 1585, the protestant Zeeuwen (Zealanders) used this slogan as a battle cry in the war against the catholic Spaniards.

The entire text was "Autore Deo, Favente Regina Luctor et Emergo" which meant something like "with a little help from the protestant God and the Queen (referring to the British Queen Elizabeth I, mind you), I will fight and emerge".

Suppose you’ve hit rock bottom in your life and you feel like the sun is hiding behind the clouds, then it’s time to shout at the world: "Ik worstel en kom boven".

4. Eenzaam maar niet alleen - Lonely but not alone (1959)

Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) reigned for an amazing 50 years (1898-1948) and kept the country gezellig and together during two devastating world wars. The Dutch loved this queen very much and they still have fond memories of her.

The queen’s great example was her distant forefather, the father of the fatherland, William of Orange who fought like a lion to create the new independent Republic of the United Netherlands with his slogan "I will uphold".

As a tribute to him, Wilhelmina chose the four centuries’ old battle hymn "Wilhelmus van Nassouwe" as the new anthem of the Netherlands. It is so long and boring that no one can memorise the complete song. Only the first two lines stick.

Anyway, she achieved what many other stadhouders (stewards) and kings could have only dreamt of; she basked in the love of the people. Sad to say, in her personal life - she was married to a prince of ill-repute - she never received any love.

So when she wrote her biography in the fifties, she gave it the sad title Eenzaam maar niet alleen. You can see a sculpture of this solitary queen with this magnificent slogan at the Noordeinde in The Hague. The sculpture is opposite the palace and office of King Willem-Alexander, her great-grandson.

When you have reached the pinnacle of your career and you feel like the proverbial tall tree attracting the wind, then it’s time to think about writing your memoirs. You could give them the working title: Eenzaam maar niet alleen.


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Ruud Hisgen


Ruud Hisgen

Ruud is teacher and managing director at Direct Dutch, he is also an author.

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