7 English words that were borrowed from the Dutch language
Dutch is a pretty obscure language, and while it may not be one of the first you think of when considering the influence of various international and historic languages on English, that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a role to play.
According to a survey conducted by Joseph M. Williams, an English Language and Literature professor at the University of Chicago, around 1 percent of English words actually originate from Dutch. So, without further ado, here are seven English words that you didn’t know actually came from Dutch.
If you’ve recently embarked on a journey to learn Dutch, this one probably won’t come as a surprise to you. The American baked good that people around the world know and love got its name from the Dutch language - although there is some debate as to how the English word actually came about. Some claim that the word became part of American English in the early 17th century as a result of a Dutch settlement called New Netherland, where the Dutch word koekje, meaning “little cake,” became anglicised.
2. Santa Claus
Whether you’ve lived in the Netherlands for years and have celebrated multiple holiday seasons in the lowlands or have only recently settled here as an expat, you’ve probably noticed the similarities between the Dutch festive holiday figure, Sinterklaas, and Santa Claus. Both men are, of course, versions of the patron saint for children, good old Saint Nicholas. Back in the Middle Ages, he was named Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, and as the winter gift-giving tradition spread to the English-speaking world in the 18th century, the name was anglicised into Santa Claus.
This is another fun holiday-themed one. When you’re next gearing up to celebrate the so-called spooky season, take a moment to thank the Dutch for the word with which Halloween will forever be associated. The English word “spooky” is derived from the word “spook” which is both a noun (used to refer to a ghoul) and a verb (to frighten or scare someone). But, as some of you may have already realised, the word “spook” is also a Dutch word! The word spook (or spooc in Middle Dutch) means - you guessed it - ghost.
This has got to be one of the more random words featured in our list. You wouldn’t be blamed for not knowing that the word “coleslaw” actually comes from the Dutch term koolsla, which directly translates to “cabbage salad”. It’s a pretty old word too, dating back to the 18th century. Alongside coleslaw (and of course cookies), other foods that can thank the Dutch for their English names include waffles, scones, and pickles.
A classic Dutch pastime, but also another word that English speakers around the world have the Dutch to thank for. The noun “skate” comes from the Dutch word schaats. Back in the 17th century, “skates” was used to refer to a singular ice skate. In time, English evolved and the singular “skate” developed to refer to one ice skate, while “skates” is still used as the plural and as a verb today.
The Netherlands’ colonial history is exceedingly controversial and problematic, but the country’s influence on South Africa and the Afrikaans language led to the creation of the name apartheid for the system of institutionalised racism in South Africa that existed in the mid-to-late 20th century.
Apartheid translates directly to “separate-hood” and, through the contact between Afrikaans and English speakers in South Africa, the Dutch word became part of the English language too. Incidentally, the word Afrikaans also comes from Dutch!
The Dutch are known for their beer, but they're also renowned for their jenever - a traditional Dutch alcoholic beverage flavoured with juniper berries. If you think that sounds an awful lot like gin, then you wouldn’t be wrong! The gin that people around the world enjoy with a wedge of lime and some tonic has the Dutch language to thank for its name: "Gin" is the shortened version of the word "genever," which comes from the Dutch jenever.
Interested to learn more about the etymology of English words? Here are eight English words you didn't know were borrowed from German!