Dutch idioms – expressions that mean something other than their literal translation – are a popular method of communication in everyday conversations in Dutch. These slang expressions are used in everyday frustrations or moments of intense joy.
Though these phrases sound funny in English (news flash: so do English idioms to non-native speakers), they are actually a great way to express yourself when you can’t find any other words. If you’re living in the Netherlands or traveling there in the future, knowing idioms is a great connector in interactions with a Dutch person.
The Dutch are full of silly idioms like “unfortunately peanut butter,” “it walks in the soup,” and “to sit with your mouth full of teeth.” The direct English translations are hilarious but also confusing. Let’s decode these phrases and find their English equivalents, shall we?
Top 17 Most Hilarious Dutch Idioms & Their Meanings
1. It’s Raining Steel Pipes – Het Regent Pijpenstelen
Ouch! Imagine steel pipes falling on you like rainwater. This expression means that it’s raining heavily, which it often does in the Netherlands, so this expression is commonly used.
Can you guess its English counterpart? Perhaps one of the most famous idioms in English, it’s raining cats and dogs, would be the equivalent to ‘it’s raining steel pipes.’
2. To Find A Dog In The Pot – De Hond In De Pot Vinden
Too little, too late! One Dutch core value is being on time, so if you show up 2 hours late to dinner, you will most likely find a dog in the pot. What does that mean? It means that there’s nothing left to eat!
Where did this idiom come from? Traditionally, dogs are allowed to clean pots and dishes after eating. If you arrive late, don’t be surprised to find a dog in the pot, eating what was supposed to be your food!
3. It Walks In The Soup – Het Loopt In De Soep
If a situation ‘walks in the soup,’ it was a complete failure. Any hope you had that it would be successful is wrong because everything went horribly and much worse than expected. Yikes!
An English expression that could be its counterpart is ‘this has disaster written all over it.’
4. It’s Dick Black Outside – Het Is Pikdonker Buiten
This silly innuendo literally translates to ‘it’s pitch black outside.’ Still, the prefix ‘pik’ can mean both ‘pitch’ and ‘dick,’ so Dutch people changed the saying to ‘it’s dick black outside’ to keep the chuckle.
Anyway, it means that it’s super dark outside, as you can imagine from its meaning and imagery. The Dutch love a good laugh!
5. I Shall Let Them Smell A Poopy – Ik Zal Ze Een Poepie Laten Ruiken
Translated into English, this Dutch expression is hilarious and confusing. You’re going to do what now? It means that you’re going to get revenge!
This saying was popular among sports teams before a big match. The players would huddle in a circle and shout ‘we zullen ze een poepie laten ruiken!’ It’s like a war cry to rally soldiers for battle. Except in this case, sports players use kindergarten taunts to get themselves hyped up. Whatever works for you!
6. Unfortunately Peanut Butter – Helaas Pindakaas
This is one of the numerous Dutch idioms that rank above the others for daily use, and for a good reason! The phrase ‘unfortunately peanut butter’ may seem strange to you, but it works so well in Dutch because ‘helaas pindakaas’ rhymes!
A Dutch person will use this expression in a nonchalant way to say, ‘that’s too bad.’ You failed your exam? Helaas pindakaas, but you didn’t study! Its meaning extends to all sorts of situations, which is why it’s used so much in conversation.
The only reason that ‘peanut butter’ (pindakaas) was chosen as the second word in the phrase is that it rhymes with the Dutch word for ‘unfortunately’ (helaas). How’s that for an interesting origin story?
7. There Is Nothing On The Hand – Er Is Niks Aan De Hand
I take it back, THIS Dutch saying is probably the most used expression in daily life. To say ‘there is nothing on the hand,’ is to say that there is nothing wrong, so don’t panic!
An English counterpart could be ‘there is no matter.’ A Dutch person wouldn’t bat their eye if you said this in conversation … that’s how common it is!
8. I Fell With The Door In The House – Ik Val Met De Deur In Huis
Let’s say it’s been a long day, and you say some not-so-nice words to a friend without meaning. To say that you ‘fell with the door in the house’ means that you came straight to the point too quickly and you want to apologize.
An English equivalent could be ‘to put my foot in my mouth’ when you wish you hadn’t said the words you did and hurt someone’s feelings.
9. I’m Keeping You In The Holes – Ik Hou Je In De Gaten
Holes … like eyeball holes? This expression means that I’m watching you, or the English counterpart, ‘I’ll be keeping an eye on you.’
You would say this if you see suspicious behavior from someone else and want to tell them that you’re onto them.
10. To Participate For Bacon And Beans – Meedoen Voor Spek En Bonen
This Dutch idiom is a fun way to say that you’re only participating for fun, not for any competition or the intention to win.
An English equivalent could be to participate for ‘sh*ts & giggles.’ It doesn’t mean anything to you, and it’s just for fun.
11. Now The Monkey Comes Out Of The Sleeve – Nu Komt De Aap Uit De Mouw
This expression is used when someone’s true character is revealed (usually not in a good way).
The explanation for this stems from another expression, ‘behaving like a monkey.’ If a person is behaving like a monkey, they are misbehaving, and thus it is hidden up their sleeve until their true behavior (or a hidden motive) comes out, and all is revealed.
The English expression for this is when ‘someone shows their true colors.’
12. There Is Not A Ball On TV – Er Is Geen Bal Op De Tv
This expression means that there is nothing even remotely interesting on TV. Pretty straightforward, huh? I guess balls are the pinnacle of interesting things to the Dutch!
If you’re bored and being dramatic, you would say this, wishing for something interesting to happen. An English counterpart could be ‘to be bored out of my mind.’
13. To Have Long Toes – Lange Tenen Hebben
Is having long toes a good thing? Not in the Netherlands! This Dutch expression means that a person is easily offended.
The famous English idiom ‘stepping on someone’s toes’ means that you’ve insulted them. But in Dutch, the person with long toes is the problem because they are too easily offended. It’s not the fault of the one who is stepping on the toes (i.e. the one doing the offending), as it’s easy to step on someone with long toes!
Basically, the Dutch are saying to have thicker skin here. Don’t be so easily offended.
14. It Shall Me A Sausage Be – Het Zal Me Worst Wezen/Zijn
This Dutch idiom rhymes in English! Let’s start saying it too. It means ‘I don’t care,’ or ‘I couldn’t care less.’
15. To Fall With Your Nose In The Butter – Met Je Neus In De Boter Vallen
In this case, falling face-first into butter is a good thing! It means receiving an unexpected benefit or having something good happen unexpectedly.
Get an unexpected raise at work? You literally fell with your nose in the butter; congratulations!
16. As If An Angel Pisses On Your Tounge – Alsof Er Een Engeltje Over Je Tong Piest
Wow, this idiom sure evokes vivid imagery. Can you guess what it means? Hint: it’s one of many Dutch food-related sayings. It means you love what you’re eating, so much so that it tastes like angel waste.
17. Talk About Little Cows – Over Koetjes En Kalfjes Praten
This phrase is the Dutch equivalent of small talk. If you’re having a conversation of little depth or making ‘polite conversation’ as it’s known in English, then you’re talking about little calves. There’s not much to say about them, is there?
- Now My Clog Is Breaking (To Be Totally Amazed/Surprised) – Nu Breekt Mijn Klomp
- To Have Something Under The Knee (To Master Something) – Iets Onder De Knie Hebben
- To Fall Down The Stairs And Broke His Hair (To Get A Drastic Haircut) – Hijs Is Van De Trap Gevallen En Heeft Zijn Haar Gebroken
- To Sit Like Herrings In A Barrel (To Be In A Crowded Place) – Als Haringen In Een Ton Zitten
What’s Your Favorite Idiom In The Dutch Language?
Learning idioms is a fun, informative way to become a more balanced and fluent Dutch speaker. Take a break from complex grammar tenses and instead start practicing the following silly Dutch expressions to bust out in conversation!
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