Five Dutch Expressions

door Regina Coeli

If you already speak Dutch quite well, you are ready for the next challenge: understanding and correctly using Dutch expressions. Expressions are used and abused by the Dutch, so watch out: the Dutch make mistakes with them! If you know the origin of an expression, it is easier to use them correctly. Have a look below at five commonly-used Dutch expressions. Try your hand at using them in your communication!

Het spits afbijten

to be the one to get the ball rolling and make it easier on those who follow you

In the Middle Ages, rival armies fought directly across from one another. The soldiers in front charged with lances, also known as ‘het spits’. As a front line soldier, you caught the first blows from your opponents and cleared the way for the soldiers behind you. You ‘had het spits afgebeten’.

Zo gek als een deur zijn

to be absolutely mad

Once upon a time, the word ‘deur’ had another meaning. It meant ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’. Nowadays it’s the Dutch word for ‘door’.

De knoop doorhakken

to take a bold decision in a difficult situation

This expression comes from the ancient Greek legend of the Gordian knot. An oracle had predicted that the one who could untangle the knot would rule the world. Alexander the Great tried to untangle it in the usual manner, but when that did not succeed, he hacked his way through it. He subsequently became ruler of an enormous empire.

Te hard van stapel lopen

to do something without thinking about it properly beforehand

This expression owes its origins to shipbuilding. ‘De stapel’ was a sort of platform in a shipyard upon which a new ship was built. Once a ship was ready, it was important to allow the ship to sink gently into the water in order to prevent accidents. If this process went too quickly, the ship was ‘te hard van de stapel gelopen’.

Praten als brugman

to speak very convincingly

Johannes Brugman was a travelling priest during the Middle Ages. His fiery rhetoric resulted in a cloister being built in Amsterdam, even though the city government did not want it.

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