Dutch Language Blog

Dutch Idioms 23 – Stealing Animals! Posted by on Jul 19, 2021 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary, Idioms

In general, stelen (stealing) isn’t a good thing. In fact, most people would say it’s never right. But this depends on the point of view, of course! The one that steals might feel like they’re justified in their actions – the one that’s being robbed probably feels quite differently about that. Today, let’s look at two Dutch idioms that relate to stealing animals, but put them in quite a different light!

For other idioms in this series, click here.

De één mag een koe stelen en de ander mag niet over het hek kijken

Dutch Idioms Cow Stealing Animals

Photo by Christian Burri on Unsplash

Literally: The one may steal a cow and the other may not look over the fence

I don’t have an English equivalent! Do you know one? Let me know in the comments below!

An odd spreekwoord (saying), that I found multiple times, but have never actually heard in person. It speaks to a certain hypocrisy: some are allowed to do things while others are not – for no apparent reason. So when somebody says this, they find that what’s happening is unfair.

The world’s not a fair place – that’s a fact. So this spreekwoord is applicable in all kinds of ways. That means that you could hear this spreekwoord in all kinds of places.

Here’s an example:

Die bankiers verdienen zo veel, en nu moet de belastingbetaler ze helpen! De één mag een koe stelen en de ander mag niet eens over het hek kijken.

(Those bankers make so much, and now the tax payer has to help them! The one may steal a cow and the other may not even look over the fence.)

On to the uitdrukking (expression)!

Met hem/haar kun je paarden stelen

Dutch Idioms Stealing Animals

Photo by Sarah Olive on Unsplash

Literally: with him/her you can steal horses

He/she is game for anything

The English translation doesn’t quite capture the meaning of this uitdrukking. It means that the person you can steal horses with is a vertrouwenswaardige (trustworthy) and loyale (loyal) friend, who is always there for you and that you can rely on.

But… Why would paarden stelen be something that indicates that you’re a good friend?

This uitdrukking goes all the way back to the 17de eeuw (17th century). Back then, paarden were very valuable bezit (property), especially as werkdieren (work animals). For that reason, they were zwaar bewaakt (heavily guarded), and stealing them had severe straffen (punishments). So if you wanted to paarden stelen, you would undertake a risky endeavor. Without a trusty and reliable friend, the consequences could be grave.

So having a friend you could do THAT with? That’s a keeper.

Here’s an example usage:

Ze is echt mijn beste vriendin. Op haar kan ik altijd vertrouwen – met haar kan ik paarden stelen!

(She really is my best friend. I can always rely on her – with her, I can steal horses!)

Have you heard these idioms before? Do you know others we should discuss? 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.