Colorful Dutch idioms and expressions, Part 3

In the final installment of this series, a few more expressions that didn’t make it into Part 1 and Part 2, most of them inspired by the animal kingdom.

Waiting for roast chickens to fall into your mouth. (wachten tot de gebraden kippen in je mond vallen.) Awaiting success and prosperity without making adequate effort toward them.

Which the dogs won’t eat bread of. (Waar de honden geen brood van lusten.) Said of an acrimoniously worded letter or speech, etc.

Having as much understanding of [something] as a cow of eating saffron/of painting. (Evenveel verstand van [iets] hebben als een koe van saffraan eten/van schilderkunst.) Knowing jack all about [something], being clueless about [something].

[looking] Like a cow that sees a passing train (als een koe die een trein ziet voorbijrijden): (1) looking clueless; (2) being taken by surprise, “like a deer in the headlights”. (More Flemish/”Zuidnederlands” than standard Dutch usage.)

Two guys and a horse’s head. (Twee man en een paardekop.) A[n audience/turnout of a] handful of people; ten people and a dog. Also “one and a half guys and a horse’s head” (anderhalve man en een paardekop).

[That fits/matches] like pliers and a pig. (Dat past als een tang op een varken.) Spectacularly, garishly mismatched.

Like a dog [walking though] a bowling game. (Als een hond in een kegelspel.) Unwelcome or unwanted; like a fifth wheel; spare organ at a wedding.

To send one’s cat. (Zijn kat sturen.) Not showing up.

Sparing the cabbage and the goat. (De kool en de geit sparen.) Having one’s cake and eating it too.

Forward the goat! (Vooruit met de geit!) Get on with it!

You can’t pluck a bald chicken/You can’t skin a pebble. (Je kan een kale kip niet pluimen/Je kan niet van men key het vel afstropen.) You can’t skin a stone/extract money from somebody who has none.

We’re lodged at the Monkey Inn. (We zijn in den aap gelogeerd.) We’ve been had/we’re hosed.

A donkey that poops money. (Een ezeltje dat geld schijt.) (1) a source of “rent”/easy money; (2) Ironically, the nonexistent finance of a fiscally unsustainable plan: “What’s going to pay for this, a donkey that poops money?”

That’s goat’s b-llocks. (Dat is kloten van de bok.) This sucks big time. [Dutch can get pretty graphic. “Kloten”/”b-llocks” plays a similar ‘all-purpose expletive’ role in Dutch as the f-word in English.]

Calling a cat a cat. (Een kat een kat noemen.) Saying it like it is, calling things by their name without sugarcoating.

When they want to beat a dog, a stick is readily found. (Als men een hond wil slaan vindt men licht een stok.) If they’re out to “get” somebody, they’ll find some pretext or another.

Little Barber must hang. (Barbertje moet hangen.) His fate’s already been decided: the trial is just for show, and even if he’s found innocent they’ll trump up another charge. From a parable in the classic 19th Century novel Max Havelaar by Multatuli (more in Dutch); said parable was itself inspired by a scene in Act IV of the German Enlightenment play “Nathan The Wise” by Lessing.

A more Pythonesque version:

 

ADDENDUM

He knows where Abraham found the mustard. (Hij went waar Abraham de mosterd gevonden heeft.) (1) He has the straight dope; (2) he knows what it’s all about. The “mosterd” is a corruption of the archaic Dutch word “mutsaard” for a pile of firewood (or shrub wood collected for the same purpose)—both of which appear in the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Gen.22:1-19).

 

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Colorful Dutch idioms and expressions, Part 2

The slightly more serious sequel to yesterday’s post.

Choosing eggs for your money. (Eieren voor je geld kiezen.) Choosing the best of a bad bunch; choosing the least unpalatable alternative. Compare French: choisir entre le mal et le pire.

Fitting a sleeve to something. (Een mouw aan iets passen.) Make something work; come up with a workaround for something.

Rowing with the oars you’ve got. (Roeien met de riemen die je hebt.) Making do with available resources; making the best of the situation.

[looking] Like a cow that sees a passing train (als een koe die een trein ziet voorbijrijden): (1) looking clueless; (2) being taken by surprise, “like a deer in the headlights”. (More Flemish/”Zuidnederlands” than standard Dutch usage.)

That’s still standing in children’s shoes. (Dat staat nog in de kinderschoenen.) This is still in its infancy; that’s not yet ready for prime time; that [technology] is “for early adopters only”.

Childhood diseases. (Kinderziekten.) Metaphorically, “teething troubles” of a new technology or device.

Hanging something off the big bell. (Iets aan de grote klok hangen.) Shouting something from the rooftops, publicizing something all over. From the days when church bells were rung to announce great tidings or calamities.

Turning over every dime. (Elk dubbeltje omdraaien, kwartjes in twee bijten.) Being very frugal.

Biting quarters in two. (Kwartjes in twee bijten.) Being excessively frugal (even by alleged Dutch standards).

Hopping out of the dance. (De dans ontspringen.) Escaping in the nick of time.

He’s been hit by the mill. (Hij heeft een slag van de molen gehad.) He’s a few sandwiches short of a picknick/a few bytes short of a valid checksum; he’s addle-brained.

[Tastes] like a little angel peeing on my tongue. (Alsof een engeltje over mijn tong piest.) Tastes awesome (usually said of beverages).

Living like G-d in France. (Leven als G-d in Frankrijk.) Living carefree and in the lap of luxury.

Living on a big foot. (Leven op grote voet.) Living high on the hog.

Putting the flowers out. (De bloemetjes buitenzetten.) Go out celebrating.

Holding a hand over someone’s head. (De hand boven iemand’s hoofd houden.) Covering for somebody, keeping somebody as a protégé.

Breaking a lance for somebody. (Een lans voor iemand breken.) Going to bat for somebody, standing up for somebody. From medieval jousting tournaments, presumably.

Putting somebody in the little sun. (Iemand in het zonnetje zetten.) Singling someone out for public praise.

Can be glued with a wet finger (is met een natte vinger te lijmen). Is very gullible. “Lijmen” (to glue) is also used metaphorically for “to butter up”.

When the shepherd is astray, his sheep will wander. (Als de herder verdwaalt dolen de schapen.) When leadership is weak or indecisive…

We’ve been kosher-slaughtered. (We zijn gesjochten.) Our goose is cooked; we’re done; we’re f—ed. From Yiddish shoichet or shechter [Jewish ritual slaughterer]. I will dedicate a separate post to the many Yiddish-derived idioms in Dutch.

Getting a fresh nose. (Een frisse neus halen.) Going out for some fresh air.

Always mourning and marrying. (Altijd rouwen en trouwen.) Life always has good and bad times; we have to take the good with the bad.

Sucking something out of his thumb. (Iets uit zijn duim zuigen.) Making something up out of whole cloth; pulling something out of his behind.

Cat in the box. (Kat in ‘t bakkie.) Easy-peasy.

Like a penny whistle. (Als een fluitje van een cent.) (1) Easy-peasy; (2) “like a walk in the park” [compared to something more serious].

It runs like off a slate roof. (Het gaat van een leien dakje.) Everything is going smoothly. Conversely: Het gaat niet van een leien dakje: this ain’t easy.

What do I have hanging off my bike? (Wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen.) What am I dealing with this time?

Needed like bread. (Broodnodig.) Highly necessary, crucial, essential. I remember a joke about some losing soccer team supposedly having hired two new Danish coaches: Høgnødig and Brødnødig.

Working oneself into nests. (Zich in nesten werken.) Getting oneself into trouble; getting caught up in (needless) complications. From what bird’s nests can do to the mechanics of a windmill.

Being well-beaked. (Goed gebekt zijn.) Being eloquent; having the gift of gab.

Too many notes in his tune (Teveel noten op zijn zang.) Making too many demands, too big for his britches.

When Easter falls on a Friday/When Easter and Pentecost fall on the same day/On St.-Juttemis [nonexistent].) (Als Pasen op een vrijdag valt/Als Pasen en Pinksteren samenvallen/Op Sint-Juttemis.) When Hell freezes over; never.

Getting Spanishly anxious. (Het Spaans benauwd krijgen.) From the Spanish occupation of the Lowlands in the 16th Century, culminating in the Eighty-Year War and the split between (Catholic) Flanders and the newly independent (Protestant) Netherlands.

The wages of the world are ingratitude. (Ondank is ‘s wereld’s loon.) Also: gratitude is a little flower that grows in few gardens. (Dankbaarheid is een bloemetje dat in weinig hoven bloeit.) Compare:

Colorful Dutch idioms and metaphors, Part 1

In honor of April Fools Day, here is a post on some colorful and/or humorous idioms in the Dutch language. The Dutch sense of humor is very earthy — often venturing into the unprintable, but not always so. Being historically a nation of seafarers and merchants, as well as of farmers reclaiming land from the sea, nautical, agricultural, and trade metaphors often recur in idioms.

Note I am not making any of these up, despite the day: Rest assured even the drollest idioms below were still in common use as I was growing up, and most of them still are.

 

Animals and agriculture

Talking about little cows and calves. (Over koetjes en kalfjes praten): engaging in smalltalk.

The odd duck in the raft (De vreemde eend in de bijt.) The odd man out.

Now the monkey pops out of the sleeve. (Nu komt de aap uit de mouw.): now we find out what’s really going on; now they show their true colors.

We’ll wash that little pig. (We wassen dat varkentje wel.): We’ll take care of that.

Watching for the cat to come down from the tree. (De kat uit de boom kijken.) Waiting for the other party to make a move. From the behavior of a dog who’s chased a cat into a tree.

Pleasing somebody with a dead sparrow. (Iemand blij maken met een dode mus.) Placating somebody with a concession or benefit of no real value.

You can get rid of your egg here. (Hier kan je je ei kwijt.) Here you can speak freely, say what’s on your mind.

That one won’t lay him any wind eggs. (Dat zal hem geen windeieren leggen.) This will be a lucrative investment. “Wind eggs”, i.e. eggs with missing or defective shells, obviously cannot be gathered and sold.

Now my clog is breaking. (Nou breekt mijn klomp.) Now I’m completely stumped, now I really don’t get it.

Why are bananas bent? (Waarom zijn de bananen krom?) Metaphor for a pointless question nobody needs to know the answer to. Also: Why does a donkey have two long ears? (Waarom heeft een ezel twee lange oren?)

Water/Nautical:

The best helmsmen are always ashore. (De beste stuurlui staan altijd aan wal.) Those who don’t do always know better than you; those who can’t, teach.

Fishing behind the dragnet. (Achter het net vissen.) Being on a wild goose chase; wasting futile efforts. Like trying to fish behind a trawled dragnet, where there would be no fish left.

This adds no sods to the levée/dike. (Dit zet geen zoden aan de dijk.) This doesn’t help any/doesn’t add anything/isn’t helpful. A large portion of Dutch landmass has been patiently reclaimed from the sea since the Middle Ages, and dikes as well as windmills were a central part of that.

Trade:

Handing out the sheets. (De lakens uitdelen.) Being in charge. From medieval days, when textile manufacturing was a cottage industry.

He didn’t eat any of that cheese. (Daar heeft hij geen kaas van gegeten.) He doesn’t know jack about the subject.

Wanting ringside seats for a dime/to sit in the front row for a dime. (Voor een dubbeltje op de eerste rij willen zitten.) Demanding or expecting an unrealistically good deal.

Getting a cookie of your own dough. (Een koekje van eigen deeg krijgen.) Getting a dose of your own medicine.

It’s for the baker. (‘t Is voor de bakker.) That’s essentially done/taken care of. (When the kneaded dough is handed to the baker, most of the work has been done.)

Every little cheese has its little holes. (Elk kaasje heeft zijn gaatje.) Nobody/nothing is perfect.

Church:

Struggling like a devil in a holy water basin. (Zich weren als een duivel in een wijwatervat.) Resisting like mad.

The bullet went through the church. (De kogel is door de kerk.): the decision has been made, the parties are committed. Historically, there was a tacit agreement that churches were not fired upon in battle: when this did happen, it meant the belligerent was going for broke.

Weather:

Disappearing like snow under the sun. (Verdwijnen als sneeuw voor de zon.) Metaphor for supplies, resources, or cash reserves being depleted rapidly.

Tall trees catch a lot of wind. (Hoge bomen vangen veel wind.) (1) Successful people generate a lot of envy. (2) Tall poppies stick out and catch flak.

For free, you get the sunrise. (Voor niets gaat de zon op.) TANSTAAFL — There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.