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English words with Dutch origins

Dutch influence can be seen in many places: from a Dutch-themed amusement park in Japan, to the creation of donuts and gin as well as in vocabulary and place names. In this article we’ll explore 10 commonly used English words, which come from the Dutch language.

Bluff – Often used in poker, our first word comes from the Dutch 17th century word bluf, which at the time meant to brag.

Cookie – Stemming from the Dutch words koek and koekje or biscuit and cookie, the English speaking world saw the adaptation of cookie in the 18th century.

Yankee – Originally a nickname offered to Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam, now known as New York City, the origin of the word is not completely clear. Most theorists seem to agree that it was a slightly insulting name given to Dutch settlers by the English settlers in the area that is now known as New England. It is thought to have come from the Dutch name Janneke, or Jan and was warped due to differences in pronunciation. Other’s think it may have come from a combination of the Dutch names Jan and Kees.

Boss – This word was originally derived from the Dutch word baas and the same word and spelling in the Afrikaans language. This word, originally recorded in the 17th century, means master or leader of the household. 

Booze – Developed from the 14th century Dutch word busen meaning: to drink to excess. In the same vein we can also credit the Dutch with the creation of gin, which stems from their famous liquor, genever.

Landscape – Originating somewhere around the early 17th century, landschap has given us a word to describe a physical scene, the orientation of a display or print and the features of a sphere of activity, such as ‘the political landscape’.

Cruise – Our example which originates in Dutch maritime history are the words kruis – to cross – and kruisen – to sail from place to place. These have, of course, given way to the word cruise, which represents both the act of going on a cruise ship, or the more colloquial use which describes smooth travel.

Gherkin – Technically starting as a Fresian word – augurk sometimes shortened to gurk – it is a type of small, crunchy, pickled cucumber. In much of the word there are different approaches to the differences between a gherkin and a pickle (also a Dutch word). We’ll just mention that both are typically used to refer to some type of pickled cucumber, though a pickle is also used to label a wide range of pickled vegetables.

Plug – Another maritime term. Traced back to the early 17th century, its meaning was limited to an object, typically wood, cork or cloth, used to fill a hole in a ship. While the spelling has remained the same, its meaning has grown to encompass more than just filling a whole. E.g. An electrical outlet is called a plug, people ‘plug-in’ cords, or it can also be used to fill a literal or figurative hole that is not necessarily on a boat.

Split – Is it any surprise that three of the words on this list are related to maritime activities? Splitten is a late 16th century word which describes the force of a storm or object causing a ship to break apart. The evolution of the definition of ‘split’ offers a moment to point out an example of how language evolves over time.

This is just a small selection of words coming from the Dutch language, the full list would go on for pages. Keep an eye on this blog for our future article on place names with Dutch origins. There we’ll explore the 13 towns, cities and islands that share the name Amsterdam, amongst other places showing recognition for their connections with The Netherlands. You may also be interested in our list of Dutch-English false friends – words that are similar but have different meanings.

The etymology of these words was researched using Oxford Languages English Dictionary

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Paul Van Zanten
Paul is an American intercultural communications professional living in the Netherlands and connecting with his Dutch roots. With a passion for travel, as well as gaining new perspectives and experiences, Paul aims to further his growth, as well as that of others at Language Partners.

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