Dutch loanwords in English


18 July, 2023

Dutch historic winter

Dutch historic winter

Dutch is a Germanic language and the native language of The Netherlands. It is also spoken in several other countries, most notably South Africa (Afrikaans), Suriname, Belgium (Flemish) and some Caribbean islands such as Aruba and Bonaire. Today, there are around 23 million native speakers of Dutch worldwide.

During the 17th century, which the Dutch call the Golden Age, the Netherlands was an economic world power, especially at sea, with influence all across the world. It was a period in history in which Dutch trade, science, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. This influence contributed to the English language in the form of borrowings from Dutch into English of various nautically and aquatically themed words, but also other commonly used nouns and verbs. Though the influence of the Dutch and their language has decreased a lot since then, Dutch words have survived in many foreign languages.

While picking up Dutch loanwords in English, the English spelling of Dutch words typically omitted combinations of vowels which do not exist in English (like “oe” or “ou”) and replaced them with existing vowel combinations respectively (like “oo”). Hence, the ‘oe’ in ‘koekje’ (biscuit) became ‘oo’ in cookie.

We are starting our series of Dutch related English etymology with the classic folk etymology ‘Forlorn Hope‘. Today’s meaning of Forlorn Hope is ‘an action that is useless, futile, or doomed to failure’. It’s in fact a Dutch phrase ‘verloren hoop’ and it meant a band of soldiers who were picked to head an attack. A company that the army was prepared to sacrifice to attain its objective.

‘Verloren’ means ‘lost’ in Dutch and a ‘hope’ was a company of soldiers (close to ‘heap’). In Dutch, we still use this word in the phrase ‘een hoop mensen’ or: a lot of people.


Everyone knows the nickname Yankee and the New York baseball club The NY Yankees. But did you know this name is originally from a very common Dutch male first name? And that the original noun is singular whereas today it’s understood as plural?
Yankees was originally used mockingly to describe revolutionary citizens. Nowadays, it commonly refers to Americans from the United States. The term originates from 17th century New York (aka New Amsterdam) where it was used by Dutch settlers as a derogatory name for the English colonists in neighboring Connecticut.
There are basically two most plausible explanations among etymologists on the Dutch origins of Yankees as a nickname. One is that the word “Yankee” may come from the Dutch name Janke (a diminutive of the name Jan – “Little John”) or from the combined names Jan Kees (a familiar form of Jan Cornelius). “Janke” would be Anglicized as “Yankee” due to the Dutch pronunciation of J as the English Y.

The other explanation is that it’s instead from the name Jan Kaas (“John Cheese”) which was used as a nickname for a Dutch-speaking American in colonial times.

Yankees logo
Yankees logo


We realize we might be dropping another etymology bomb here, but the word ‘golf’ and playing ‘golf’ was not invented in Scotland, but in the Netherlands. The word ‘golf’ is in fact derived linguistically from the Dutch word ‘kolf’ or ‘colf’, meaning simply ‘stick’. This Dutch term became ‘goff’ in Scottish dialect and later in the 16th century ‘golf’. Also, the term ‘putting’ comes from the Dutch word ‘put’ meaning ‘hole’ or ‘well’.

Golf balls and ‘putting’ fun facts: documents in the British Museum suggest that the Dutch were already selling ‘kolf’-balls at St. Andrews as early as the 12th century. And a complaint was registered back in 1659 in Fort Orange (aka Albany) about civilians playing ‘colf’ as ‘long game’ on the streets, causing damage to windows and hurting people. In winter, the problem was less damaging – when the canals became ice and snow, many Dutch colf players took to the ice, finding an ideal playing surface and all the space they needed.

A game called ‘kolf’ is in fact still played in the (north) Netherlands today, but then only indoors. The game is played by less than 1,000 people with currently just 31 clubs and 14 courses, compared with the hundreds that existed before. Of the wooden courses still in use, most are in the villages in the province of North Holland and often in the back of cafes or social centers.

So, strangely enough, kolf in Holland is only played indoors, whereas golf as we know it today, is played outdoors. So while the Scots developed their own version of colf as an outdoor game which eventually grew into the modern game of golf, the Dutch were doing the opposite with colf and were adapting the game to a form that could be played mostly indoors.

Skating for Gold

During the weeks of Winter Olympics in Beijing, you will no doubt notice the many medals won by Dutch on skates. The word ‘skate’ actually is derived from the Dutch word ‘schaats’ and seems to have been brought to England in the 17th century. But also, the words ‘sled’ and ‘sleigh’ are Dutch loanwords in English. And even big constructions such as icebergs are a direct translation of the Dutch ‘ijsberg’ meaning ice mountain.

It’s because of the spelling that the Dutch origins are sometimes hidden. The famous Dutch ‘sch’ [sg] was difficult for English speakers and became a [sk] sound. The same pronunciation adaptation, by the way, is also found in the Dutch loanwords ‘sketch’, ‘scour’, ‘skipper’ ‘scone’ and ‘school’.

Being world leaders in the 17th century, the Dutch introduced expressions in the science of water management – controlling water levels and conditions, both in warm and cold circumstances. So, again, it is no surprise that many expressions were exported to English and other foreign languages such as Russian and Japanese. Water management starts with keeping the water out by building dykes (‘dijken’) and dams (‘dammen’), hence creating (same word) polders. All of these words made it into English loanwords.

Whatever you want translated, just ask Jensen Localization for a competitive quote. We specialize in Dutch, Spanish, German and French. Ready to help you set up your own global village.

Culture, Dutch, Funny Stories, Languages, Loanwords, Vertaalbureau, Vertaling

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