The Dutch Carnival dictionary

The Dutch Carnival dictionary

Feeling overwhelmed at Carnival, the time of year when the Dutch start using even stranger words than usual?

Carnival dialect

Carnival is mainly celebrated in the south of the Netherlands, so many terms associated with the festival are derived from local dialects. This, combined with words for practices that only occur during Carnival time, can make it hard for a non-local to follow conversations at the festivities.

Know the lingo

If you are attending a Dutch Carnival event, have our list of terms handy so you can party along with the right lingo!

Alaaf (traditional carnival greeting)

Traditionally shouted while accompanied by a crooked salute in which you bring the fingers of your right hand up to your left temple.

Aswoensdag (Ash Wednesday)

 The first day of fasting in the Catholic tradition, and the first day after Carnival. This is traditionally a day of repentance.

Boerenbruiloft (farmers' wedding)

A mock ceremony of a selected bride and groom who carry the love for Carnival. In the spirit of role reversal the couple are dressed as farmers, regardless of their stature.

Boerenkiel (farmer’s smock)

Traditionally worn as a costume, especially at the Bourgondisch Carnival.

Bourgondisch Carnaval

The name for Carnival in and around Brabant, One of two types of Carnival. This version is more cosy, generally celebrated inside bars, more inclusive and the costumes are simpler.

Carnavalskraker (carnival hit)

Carnival comes with its own songs made especially for the occasion. A good Carnavalskraker is perfect for shouting along with in a big, intoxicated group while dancing a polonaise.

Dweilorkest (ambling orchestra)

An orchestra of percussionists and wind instruments that plays festive hits. The word dweilen generally means "to mop" in Dutch, but in this context it means "to amble", and indicates the partygoers ambling from bar to bar.

Groete Optoch (big parade)

 In Maastricht, this is called Bónte Störm, which lasts three days and consists of a riotous and chaotic, costumed group of people.


Hossen (dancing)

Dancing to music in 6/8 time.

Joekskapel (orchestra)

Special inside party orchestra that you mainly see at the Rijnlands Carnival.


The name for Breda during Carnival.


The name for Eindhoven during Carnival.

Mooswief (Vegetable Woman)

The patroness of the Maastricht Carnival.


The name for Den Bosch during Carnival.

Ouwwieverbal (old woman’s ball)

 Tradition prevalent in South Limburg. Everyone who ventures out without an old lady’s costume during this event risks being ridiculed. Some go so far as to cut off other people’s ties and shoelaces. Also called Truujendaag in Venlo. 

 Pekskes (Carnival costumes)

Popular choices for Carnival costumes are class-distinctive clothes, such as farmer's smocks, jester's suits, uniforms, robes and crowns. You will also see colourful clothes like fanfare outfits and traditional Dutch dress, all embellished to fit the party mood.


 Polonaise (party dance)

A dance where people hold on to each other’s shoulders, form a line and parade around to party music. Originally used to describe a stately Polish dance, this version is very different.

Though not an exclusive carnival dance, a lot of polonaise lines will generally appear during festivities. Also known as the only time the Dutch will form a voluntary queue.

Prins Carnaval (Prince Carnival)

Elected city ruler by a city’s Carnival society. He receives the key to the city during the celebrations.

Prins Carnaval

Raad van elf (Council of 11)

Prins Carnaval’s council and following, consisting of a jester and other members.

Rijnlands Carnaval (Carnival in and around Limburg)

The other of two types of Carnival. This version is more outgoing, is celebrated in the bars and on the streets and often has more elaborate costumes. It also sticks more to the big cities.

Salaai (The Lampegat version of alaaf)

Sleuteloverdracht (Key offering)

The symbolic presenting of the key and rule of the city by the mayor of a city to Prins Carnaval on the first day of Carnival.

Stadsreuzen (City giants)

Large, decorated puppets that are erected during Carnival and paraded around. Many stadsreuzen represent famous creatures from folk tales.

Steek (a special pointy hat with upturned edges)

Traditionally worn by Prins Carnaval.

Tonpraoter (Barrel talker)

A comic speech in traditional dialect in Brabant, making fun of local events and celebrities. The speaker often stands inside an actual barrel. Similar versions are sauwelaar, buuttereedner in Limburg or ouwoer in Zeeland.

Vastelaovend (Fat Tuesday)

Limburg dialect for Vastenavond (Fasting Night), also known as Vette Dinsdag. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and the last night of Carnival.

Zate hermeniekes (orchestras)

The orchestras that precede the Maastricht street Carnival parade.


Any other words you heard during Carnival, and would you like to know their meaning? Let us know in the comments below!


Alexandra van Kampen


Alexandra van Kampen

English and Japanese theatre and culture are my forte. My mother was raised in England, and my grandmother in Japan. I studied Japanese Language and Culture, and Film and Photographic...

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