Dutch Idioms 27 – Is it the truth? Posted by Sten on Feb 11, 2022 in Culture, Dutch Language, Idioms
Sometimes we read something in the news, or we hear something raars (strange), we frown, and we ask ourselves: klopt dat wel? (Is that actually true?) Then we start digging, to uncover the waarheid (truth). And as we all know, truth comes out in the end. Or well, we say something like that in Dutch Idioms. Here’s how the Dutch use distance to describe truth in a spreekwoord (saying) and an uitdrukking (expression)!
Leugens hebben korte benen
A lie has no legs
Literally: Lies have short legs
This spreekwoord is more widespread than just the Dutch language, and so its meaning is quite universally understood, and it makes sense even when you read it. Lies have short legs – in other words, die komen niet ver (they don’t get far). So even though a lie seems to achieve its goal sometimes, it’ll show that it was a lie in the end!
Because of its ease of understanding and obvious meaning, this spreekwoord is used quite a lot, and everybody will understand it. Its use is rather informal. Here’s an example:
Ik heb de tas echt niet gestolen!
– Wat heb je daar nou aan, ik ben niet boos op je, maar ik wéét gewoon dat je de tas hebt! Leugens hebben korte benen, vriend!
Ja ok… Ik heb de tas gepakt. Maar ik wilde hem echt niet stelen! Ik zweer het!
(I really didn’t steal the bag!
– What do you get out of this, I am not angry at you, but I just know that you have the bag! Lies have short legs, my friend!
Yeah, ok… I did take the bag. But I really didn’t want to steal it! I swear!)
Let’s move on to the uitdrukking!
Voor geen meter (kloppen)
(to be correct) for not a single meter
To be utterly wrong/incorrect
This one is used quite a lot, too, and it basically means: helemaal niet (not at all). We say voor geen meter when we want to emphasize that, like the lie, there’s something that doesn’t go the distance. The classic is het klopt voor geen meter (This is all wrong). The voor geen meter (for no meter) just means that you won’t trust it for even a single step, not a single meter!
But this uitdrukking is quite versatile. If you want to use it with another verb, you can! For example: Ik vertrouw het voor geen meter (I don’t trust it at all). Because voor geen meter is a longer structure that comes at the end, it adds a lot more emphasis than helemaal (completely), similar to how not at all is a lot stronger than really in a sentence like: I really don’t trust it / I don’t trust it at all.
This is such normal usage these days that it’s used both formally and informally. It really translates well in both formality, use and meaning with “not at all”.
Why do the Dutch say voor geen meter instead of something more generic? I am not sure, it’s hard to find information on this. I reckon that, like the lies without legs, it’s a straightforward metaphor that simply came to be, and nobody really knows where it started. But it’s definitely not older than 1809, when the word “meter” was introduced to Dutch for the first time – initially, of course, as a unit of distance.
Here’s an example of usage!
Ik weet gewoon zeker dat hij die tas heeft gestolen. Hij zegt van alles, maar ik geloof het voor geen meter.
(I simply know for sure that he stole that bag. He says all kinds of things, but I don’t believe it at all.)
Are these uitdrukking and spreekwoord also in your language? Are there similar ones in your language, or have you heard these before? I’d love to hear it, so let me know in the comments below!
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