Monday, August 1, 2011

Fun with Dutch words

I'm trying to learn Dutch.

This is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, one of the most annoying things about trying to learn Dutch is the frequency with which other people (both Dutch- and English-speaking) say to me, "Dutch should be easy for you since it's so similar to English!"

While it's true that both English and Dutch are Germanic languages, this linguistic relationship is not as helpful as you'd think. Pronunciation of vowels and most consonants? Not similar. Sentence structure? Not similar. Use of gendered articles? Not similar.

Actually, it's only similar in ways that make it more difficult to learn. Chief among these is the ubiquitousness of false cognates. (Ha! I do in fact remember something from high school French!) A false cognate, as my French teacher once explained, is a word that looks or sounds like a familiar English word but actually means something else in another language.

For example, I was super excited to see lots of signs that said "RAMEN" when I first moved here. I foolishly thought that I'd found a plethora of Japanese noodle shops, a familiar sight in Los Angeles. "Ramen," as it turns out, is the plural of "raam," which means "window." Lots of places to buy windows.

Sometimes the similarities seem deliberately misleading. "Limoen" sounds a lot like "lemon," except it actually means "lime." (Citroen is lemon.) A "penseel" is not, as you might think, a pencil, but a paintbrush. And "mist" in Dutch means "fog" whereas "nevel" means "mist."

Pronouns are especially fun. "Hoe" (pronounced "Who") means "How." "Wie" (pronounced "We") means "Who." See what I mean?

Herewith I give you a list of Dutch words and what they actually mean in English:

(Dutch word=English translation)

rug=back (of a person)
golf=wave (thus microgolf=microwave oven)

... and my absolute favorite:



  1. I had so much fun reading this entry :) Good luck! :) Good thing you don't need to learn 'Hasselts' it's even worse :)

  2. My favorite is room = cream. I still like this one in the US. At Starbucks, when you order a drip coffee, the barista always asks if you'd like room for cream, so they know whether to fill the cup the whole way to the brim or not. However, as a short version, they simply ask, "Would you like room?" It's like they're speaking Dutch and don't even know it :-)

    Loved this post, Diana. Sterkte!

  3. That's a great one! I didn't know about the Starbucks association, but then I never order coffee.

  4. It's funny for me to read your list, because I have a Dutch mind and an English mind...they don't switch easily!

  5. You should see how some sounds in Dutch become portuguese swearing.... :p

  6. heb je eigenlijk geen last met de vele dialecten, vraag ik me af...of is dat in America ook zo ...