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Curious Words in Dutch 6: Telefoonbotje Posted by on Jun 1, 2020 in Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

Have you ever called your arm? The Dutch word telephone bone suggests that you can. Or is that not what it means? Let’s take a look at this curious word.

Previous posts in this series:

Curious Words In Dutch

The Telephone Bone

Ring!!! (Image from Unsplash, edited by author)

You may have heard of the “phone bone” before. It refers to bone growth at the back of the skull, allegedly caused by phone use. However, that is not at all what the Dutch think of when hearing “phone bone”.

The Dutch telefoonbotje is that gnarly feeling when you hit your elleboog (elbow) in just the right (or wrong) spot. It’s as if your arm is vibrating, and a pain runs throughout your arm, all the way to the top of your fingers. However, unlike the name suggests, you don’t hit a botje (bone), but rather a zenuw (nerve), more specifically the nervus ulnaris.

The English equivalent is the funny bone, but I am not aware of more terms in English for this spot. The Dutch, however, have many more terms! See more on that below.

Where does the word telefoonbotje come from?

As I had always believed, the word telefoon does not refer to feeling as if your arm is receiving a call, but rather to the caused pain.

Rather, it comes from back when landline phones still had bells. When the phone rings, the voltage pushed through the lines can go up to 90V. When you touch the telephone wires, you could get a nasty electric shock, not unlike the feeling of hitting your telefoonbotje!


A weduwnaar (Image by Tim Cooper at Unsplash.com).

There are actually many words for this botje. It goes from tinteldoos (tingle box), stroombotje (current bone) to weduwnaarsbotje (widower’s bone) and telegrambotje (telegram bone). However, the pain from hitting that spot has its own name, too. It is often called weduwnaarspijn (widower’s pain). But why? How is that pain related to weduwnaar (widower)?

Mr. Beets wrote in 1890 in a magazine that the elbow pain is similar to that of a weduwnaar. It is a hevige maar korte pijn (bad but short pain) just like the hevige maar korte rouw (intense but short mourning) of a weduwnaar. That’s pretty heavy, isn’t it?

I think I’ll stick with imagining my arm is receiving a phone call whenever I hit the telefoonbotje!

What is the telefoonbotje called in your language? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator and filmmaker.


  1. Gré:

    In English, we say you hit your funny bone, but there’s nothing funny about hitting it–it hurts!