Dutch Language Blog

Dutch Idioms 17 – Hitting It or Hitting Over It? Posted by on Feb 1, 2021 in Culture, Dutch Language

Between all the news and craziness, it’s time to relax with some spreekwoorden (sayings) and uitdrukkingen (expressions). Especially on a Monday! I changed the title of the series to “Dutch Idioms” to give it a bit more flexibility and make it all a bit more… succinct. The title of today’s post is “hit it!” – what’s that about? Well, the spreekwoord and uitdrukking are related to the Dutch verb slaan (to hit) and its zelfstandig naamwoord (noun) slag (hit). Slaan is an interesting word that is used with prepositions to mean completely different things. You’ll see that a little bit here today. Let’s jump in with the spreekwoord!

For other sayings and expressions in this series, click here.

Kinderen die vragen, worden overgeslagen

Dutch Idioms

Image by Jorge Ibanez at Unsplash.com

Literally: children who ask are skipped

Is there a proper (English) equivalent? Let me know in the comments below!

Ah yes, kinderen (children) that have the durf (audacity) to ask whether they can come first. A common answer – and boy, have I heard it in my days – is that kinderen die vragen worden overgeslagen. So this rhyme is not so much about asking anything, but asking to be put first, to be haantje de voorste (“rooster the first”). You might hear this from your juf or meester, as we call primary school teachers in the Netherlands, or any other parent or authority figure when you’re a child. It is not used at all from adults to other adults or even adolescents. It’s really reserved for children.

I assume the lesson is to teach children to op hun beurt wachten (to wait their turn). But it’s also feels part of the Dutch culture of bescheidenheid (modesty), something we’ve also seen in our last spreekwoorden en uitdrukkingen. However, this attitude can of course also lead to feeling like you aren’t allowed to pursue your thing, which is acknowledged by some. Perhaps this is why sometimes, this spreekwoord is followed by another one: Maar kinderen die zwijgen, zullen ook nooit wat krijgen (but children that keep silent will also never get anything). I know that I never heard this addition when I was a young child, so perhaps this is a more recent development or it’s not common in the east of the Netherlands where I am from.

On the other hand, this addition may defeat the purpose of keeping order in a classroom, for example. As I haven’t had the pleasure of teaching young children myself, I’ll leave it to the juffen and meesters to decide whether this is effective pedagogy or not.

Here’s an example:

Juf, mag ik het eerste stuk taart?

– Karla, kinderen die vragen, worden overgeslagen! Pieter, jij mag het eerste stuk, want jij bent jarig!

(Miss, can I have the first piece of cake?

– Karla, children that ask, are skipped! Pieter, you can have the first piece, as it is your birthday!)

On the hitting here – slaan means to hitoverslaan means to skip. So adding the preposition over- (over) means that your hit goes over that person and hits the next. Something like that, I think.

On to the uitdrukking!

Van slag raken / van streek zijn

Dutch Idioms

Image by Annie Spratt at Unsplash.com

Literallyto get off stroke / to be off the point

getting upset

Sometimes also as van slag zijn, this expression simply means that you are or are getting upset. It is used both formally and informally, and is used a lot, actually. People usually don’t say ik zit in de war (I am confused), but that’s kind of what you feel when you’re upset. Van slag is pretty much THE way to say that you’re upset in Dutch!

De slag, of course, is the zelfstandig naamwoord of slaan, and has many meanings.

But what does slag mean here, where does it come from? Van slag is interchangeable with van streek (off the compass point). The latter has its origins in the scheepvaart (shipping), with streek being short for windstreek (point of a compass). Therefore, van streek means off the compass, off the direction you were following. And if you can’t follow the compass anymore, you aren’t following any specific direction. You are confused, directionless, lost. A terrible thing when you’re on the high seas with nothing but a kompas (compass) and a kaart (map), but it can be fixed!

Van slag probably goes back to the slagen van de klok (strokes of the clock). When the klok gets van slag (off stroke), it doesn’t run properly, it’s off. Just like you can get off stroke; but also this is nothing that can’t get fixed.

Here’s an example of how to use it:

Karla schaamt zich. Had ze maar niets gezegd! Terwijl haar klasgenoten van de taart smullen, gaat ze in de poppenhoek zitten en begint zachtjes te huilen. Ze raakt helemaal van slag.

Dan komt de juf naar haar toe, en slaat een arm om haar.

– Sorry, Karla. Kom er gezellig bij! Jij mag ook een stuk taart. En weet je wat? Kinderen die zwijgen, zullen nooit wat krijgen!

Karla glimlacht door haar tranen heen en kijkt naar de juf.

Dus het is niet erg dat ik zo veel praat?

– Nee! Je bent geweldig, zoals je bent!

Karla springt opgewekt op, rent terug naar de taart en pakt gretig een stuk. Lekker!

(Karla is ashamed. If only she hadn’t said anything! While her classmates are enjoying the cake, she sits down in the puppet corner and begins to cry softly. She’s getting totally upset.

Then, the teacher comes to her, and puts her arm around her.

– I’m sorry, Karla. Come join us! You can also have a piece of cake. And you know what? Children that keep silent will also never get anything

Karla smiles through her tears and looks at the teacher.

So it’s not bad that I talk so much?

– No! You’re awesome the way you are!@

Karla jumps up cheerfully, runs back to the cake and eagerly takes a piece. Yum!)

What are these spreekwoord and uitdrukking in your language? Do you know any (English) equivalents? I’d love to hear it. 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, animator and filmmaker.


  1. Constance Brown:

    I love this column! You do a German one too? I’d like to see it. I like how you interweave language and culture. (Well, of course you do.) We lived in Wageningen in ‘69-‘70 and loved it. So glad I learned some Dutch! It was fun asking people to guess why a Dutchman would want to rent a dog.