Bet you didn’t know that much of your English is actually Dutch

Although Dutch might be spoken by only around 28 million people worldwide, the official language of Belgium and the Netherlands has left a considerable stamp on the English language. Some of the influence originates in the 16th and 17th centuries. But because of the extensive migration of Netherlanders — or Dutch — to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, most of the Dutch’s reach is a direct result of the Netherlands’s long maritime and commercial supremacy, as well as its colonial adventures in South Africa, the West Indies, and North America.

The history of Dutch influence in America has its beginnings in 1609, when Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the service of the “Dutch East India Company,” sailed into the mouth of Half Moon Bay to barter with the Natives. By 1613, four Dutch houses had been built on the island, and by the spring of 1623, the “New Netherland” ship arrived with the first party of permanent colonists, in Manhattan.

New York was originally coined New Amsterdam in the 17th century, and the term Yankee is really a phonetic rendition of the generic nickname that was used insultingly for the Dutch at the time: Jan Kees, or John Cheese. Similarly, the Dutch word “baas,” commonly used on ships as the standard title for a ship’s captain, was adopted as “boss” into English lexicon as a kinder version of “master.” 

In 1665 the population of New Netherland was nearly 10,000, of which 1,600 were in the city of New Amsterdam. It was not by any means and exclusively Dutch population. A lot of English speakers were already present. Although the actual period of Dutch immigration lasted barely more than forty years, the period of influence lasted infinitely longer. 

The modern-day Santa Claus is directly derived from Sinterklaas, named after Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Mira. Saint Nicholas lived in Turkey in the 3rd century and, according to the legend, saved the town from starvation. Inhabitants of the old Dutch colonial town of New York City revived the tradition during the American War of Independence. In 1773, the New York Gazetteer first referred to a celebration of “St. A Claus” by the descendants of the ancient Dutch families. Sinterklaas effectively became Santa Claus.

There are also inherent similarities in vocabulary and phonetic form between Dutch and English which made assimilation easy. There is scarcely a sound in the Dutch language that is not readily convertible into its English etymological correspondent. This fact has worked itself out, of course, in the history of Dutch assimilation.

Here are some of the most obvious examples of English words of Dutch descendance:

English Dutch Original
Coleslaw Kool (Cabbage) Sla (Salad) 
Cookie Koekje (Little cookie)
Skate Schaats
Spook Spook (Ghost)
Dapper Dapper
Dollar Daalder (Historic unit of currency, equivalent to one-and-a-half guilders)
Easel Ezel (Donkey, painter’s donkey)
Furlough Verlof (Permission to leave, time off)
Geek Gek (Fool)
Mannequin Manneken (Little Man)
Onslaught Aanslag (Attack)
Roster Rooster (Grid)
To sketch Schets (To draft)
To smelt Smelten (To melt)
Waffle Wafel
To jeer Gieren (To cry or roar)
Golf Kolf (Club or bat)
To elope Ontlopen (To evade)
Frolic Vrolijk (Happy)
To hoist Hijsen (To lift up)


With the Netherlands being one of the leading seafaring nations, it’s no wonder so many maritime words have their origins in the Lowlands as well:

English Dutch Original
Bow Boeg (Front of a ship)
Buoy Boei
To cruise Kruisen (To cross)
Deck Dek
Pump Pomp
Skipper Schipper
Caboose Kombuis (Ship’s kitchen)
Iceberg Ijsberg (literally Ice Mountain)
School School (Group of fish)
Keel Kiel



Stefan Huyghe
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.

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