Dutch Language Blog

14 English words you probably didn’t know have Dutch origins Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Dutch Language

Flickr Creative Commons / Irargerich

When you take on the challenge of learning Dutch, native speakers will commend you for trying your hand at their “really difficult” language.

Their eyes will widen in admiration as they tell you “Dutch is such a hard language to learn.”

They’ve got a point… it sure ain’t easy.

But the good news for us English speakers is that our languages are quite similar, particularly if you speak the American variety.

And it makes sense, too. After all, the Dutch were some of the first Europeans to settle in America. Holland, Michigan and New York’s Brooklyn and Harlem remain as tributes to America’s strong Dutch roots. In the 2010 U.S. Census, 4.6 million Americans (1.5% of the United States’ population) identified themselves as having Dutch ancestry.

As a result, much of the (American) English language comes from the Dutch. Take a look at the list below for the words we nabbed from the Netherlands and what they mean in Dutch. You may be surprised at some of the words on the list.

Boss – comes from the word baas, which has the exact same meaning in Dutch as it does in English
Yankee – this one is a combo of two of the most popular Dutch names for boys at the time: Jan and Kees –> Jan-Kees –> Yankee
Coleslaw – in Dutch, it’s koolsla, which literally means “cabbage salad”
Landscape – we get this one from landschap, which has the same meaning in both languages
Cookie – is based on the Dutch word koekje (“biscuit” or “cookie”), which is sometimes written/pronounced koekie
Cruise – the origin for this word is the Dutch verb kruisen, which means “to cross”
Frolic – here, we took from the word vrolijk, which means “happy” or “cheerful”
Pump – change the ‘u’ to an ‘o,’ and you get the word pomp, which means “pump” (as in a gas or bicycle pump)
Rucksack – comes directly from the word rugzak, literally “back bag,” also known as backpack
Roster – just add an ‘o’ and you get the Dutch word rooster (“schedule” or “timetable”)
Spook – spelled exactly the same in both languages, in Dutch, a spook is a ghost, phantom, or spirit
Waffle – in Dutch, it’s spelled a bit differently (wafel), but they mean the same thing
Wagon – is not that far removed from it’s Dutch ancestor the wagen (used when referring to trains)
Onslaught – the Dutch word, aanslag, has the exact same meaning

This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if what you’ve seen here intrigues you and you’d like to know more, Wikipedia has an excellent collection of English words of Dutch origin.

Another interesting tidbit: While there are several languages that are supposedly easier for native English speakers to learn because of their similarities, the closest language to English is Friesian, which is spoken in Friesland, a province in the Netherlands.

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About the Author: tiffany

Tiffany Jansen is an American magazine and copywriter in the Netherlands.


  1. Ute (expatsincebirth):

    This is an interesting list! Some of these words come from the German, like Rucksack, Landschaft, Spuk and Waffel. Do you know since when these words appeared in the English language?

    • tiffany:

      @Ute (expatsincebirth) Hi Ute,
      The fact that Dutch and German (and English) are all Germanic languages, means there are certainly similarities between them, as you mentioned. This list is attributed to Dutch influence, however. Unfortunately I don’t know when these words appeared in the English language. If I’m not mistaken, there are some dictionaries that do make mention of when words were first introduced as well as their origins. I’m sure if you Google around a bit you’ll be able to find something 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  2. Peter Simon:

    Hallootjes, Tiffany! A nice list, thank you. I couldn’t add much (partly because I’m no native English speaker), but I was quite surprised how FEW people admitted to having Dutch ancestry in that census. In comparison, as the largest (!) group, around 50 million said they had Germanic origins! I’d call that a surprise, had I not heard of such an earlier census result. My uneducated (I don’t really speak German) guess is that words from German or Dutch may often be the same, given the famous similarity between those two as well, and that might blur results of such comparisons. As to the word ‘yankee’, I’ve found this the most striking one, as I haven’t met the name ‘Kees’ in the Netherlands during five years of living here yet. However, lots of family names in America are related to the Dutch (Hoult, Loken, Fischer, Wedeen, to name a few, but then again, names of other origin also abound), except that the most usual Dutch family names (like ‘de Jong’, and all names with ‘tussenvoegsels’) didn’t make it to the New World, and I find that quite striking. Besides, of course, there are thousands of words in Dutch and English which are practically identical for the reason of coming from the same Old-Germanic ancestry: names of the week, of materials – ‘steen’ for ‘stone’, ‘wol’ for ‘wool’, ‘zilver’ for ‘silver’, you name it; but also prepositions and pre- and suffixes are related, like ‘on-‘ for ‘un-‘, ‘voor’ for ‘for’, ‘-loos’ for ‘-less’, often tainted with Latin influences, like with ‘-tatie’ for ‘-tation’, or ‘-tie’ for ‘-tion’. Hoewel, de Nederlandse invloed heeft in de wereld serieus gevallen achter de Gouden Eeuw – I guess only eeuw can’t be easily identified on its own. No, Dutch is not difficult with English or German background. Try Russian, or Hungarian, or the like.

  3. tiffany:

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for your comment. There are certainly lots of German words that feature in the English language. As well as French and a whole host of others. It’s really amazing how many languages has an influence on English as we know it.

    English, Dutch, and German are all Germanic languages, so there are definitely through lines in all of them. But, at the same time, they’re very different languages. Certainly, if you speak Dutch, you’ll find similarities in German, but many native Dutch speakers can neither speak nor understand German.

    This list here is attributed to Dutch influence. There are others as well, which come from the middle ages, but with this list I wanted to pick those that are similar to those used in Dutch today.

    What a coincidence! I’ve also been in the Netherlands about 5 years. I have, though, met a few Keeses. It’s certainly not as common now as it was back when the term Yankees originated (it’s earliest-recorded use was in 1758).

    Great point bringing up the German ancestry in the US. In fact, the famous Pennsylvania Dutch are not Dutch at all, but German. And the German accent is still commonly found in Texas of all places. There were a lot of German immigrants to the United States. So I’m certainly not surprised that there’s such a large German influence there. Given that the population in the Netherlands is right around 16 million, it is quite something that 4.6 million Americans claim Dutch ancestry.

    Having some experience with English or German certainly does help in learning Dutch 🙂

  4. Jacqueline ter Haar:

    Hi Tiffany,

    Wauw…you actually have words that weren’t on my blogpost: http://www.expatsupportinamsterdam.com/blog/the-dutch-dictionary-is-the-largest-in-the-world/#more-344. I would love it if you would add them to my blogpost!

    • tiffany:

      @Jacqueline ter Haar Fantastic post! So fascinating to see how languages evolve and how other languages influence them.

    • Mike Danello:

      @Jacqueline ter Haar Pennsylvania Dutch is a corruption/mispronounciation of Pennsylvania Deutsch, which of course means Pennsylvania German. Postage stamps from Germany are inscribed Deutschland.

  5. chase:

    Goed Gedaan.

    In my time in Holland, I noticed that the Dutch were picking up a lot of English words as well. It seems to me that the language is evolving very fast. It was nice to see how some of the English words originated from Het Nederlands.

    Iedergeval, dankuwel voor de lijst. Ik vond het echt leuk.



  6. jack mens:

    The gentleman Peter Simon is quite mistaken regarding the name Kees. Almost every original dutch family, with solid
    dutch ancestory has the name Kees in the family.
    It is one of the common names, like Jan, Frans, Piet etc.

    • tiffany:

      @jack mens I’ve heard it quite frequently as well. Perhaps he’s in a region where it’s not nearly as common?

  7. Frits Evenbly:

    I enjoyed this excellent article as well the responses.

    My native language is Dutch. However, I have lived in English speaking countries for 56 years. I heard countless of times, from only English speakers, that English is such a difficult language. Well, it isn’t.

    Being raised and educated in the Netherlands, I was taught, like most Dutch children at the time, four languages in school, Dutch, English, French and German. Mandatory, no electives! Personally I had most difficulties with German. Too close to Dutch. I tended to take a Dutch word and convert it to, what I thought was a German word. I did not make good grades in German!

    Every language has its own idiosyncrasies.

    Below, I show, for your enjoyment, some in English and after that is Dutch.

    We’ll begin with box, the plural is boxes,
    but the plural of ox is oxen not oxes.
    One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
    but the plural of moose is never meese.
    You find a lone mouse, or a whole nest of mice,
    but the plural of house is houses not hice.
    The plural of man is always men,
    but shouldn’t the plural of pan be called pen?
    If I speak of a foot and you show me two feet,
    but I give you a boot, should a pair be called beet?
    The singular’s this and the plural is these,
    but should the plural of kiss ever be keese?
    We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
    but though we say mother, we never say methren.
    The masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
    but imagine the feminine she, shis and shim.
    Any questions?
    If a lamb is called a ram and a mule is called an ass,
    why is a ram in the ass called a goose?

    And here is a similar version in Dutch:

    Het meervoud van slot is sloten
    Maar toch is het meervoud van pot, geen poten
    Evenzo zegt men; een vat twee vaten
    Maar zal men niet zeggen: een kat twee katen

    Wie gisteren ging vliegen, zegt heden ik vloog.
    Dus zeggen ze misschien ook van wiegen ik woog.
    Neen mis! want ik woog is afkomstig van wegen.
    Maar is nu ik “voog”, een vervoeging van vegen.

    En van het woord zoeken vervoegt men ik zocht
    En dus hoort bij vloeken, misschien wel ik vlocht
    Alweer mis! want dit is afkomstig van vlechten
    Maar ik hocht is geen juiste vervoeging van hechten

    Bij roepen hoort riep, bij snoepen geen sniep
    Bij lopen hoort liep, maar bij slopen geen sliep
    Want dit is afkomstig van het schone woord slapen
    Maar zeg nu weer niet, ik riep bij het woord rapen.

    Want dat komt van roepen, en u ziet terstond
    Zo draaien wij vrolijk in een kringetje rond
    Van raden komt ried, maar van baden geen bied
    Dat komt van bieden, (ik hoop dat u ‘t ziet)
    Ook komt hiervan bood, maar van wieden geen wood.

    U ziet de verwarring is akelig groot
    Nog talloos veel voorbeelden kan ik u geven
    Want gaf hoort bij geven, maar laf niet bij leven
    Men spreekt van wij drinken, wij hebben gedronken
    Maar niet van wij hinken, wij hebben gehonken

    Het volgende geval, dat is bijna te bont
    Bij slaan hoort, ik sloeg, niet ik sling of ik slond
    Bij staan niet ik stong ik sting maar ik stond
    Bij gaan hoort ik ging, en niet ik goeg of ik gond

    Een mannetjeskat, noemt men meestal een kater
    Hoe noemt men een mannetjesrat, soms een rater
    zo heeft het NEDERLANDS verschillende kwalen
    Nietemin is en blijft het, DE TAAL DER TALEN.

    • tiffany:

      @Frits Evenbly This is excellent! I’d seen the one in English, but not the one in Dutch. Thank you so much for sharing this! I see a future post topic… 🙂

  8. Peter Simon:

    Hi, jack mens,

    I’m sorry that you’re quite mistaken about what the gentleman Peter Simon has written. I can’t have been mistaken because I didn’t write that there aren’t any, or many, or there are few Kees in the Netherlands – I wrote I haven’t met any. And that is a fact, not a matter of opinion. I haven’t. For that experience, there can still be zillions of Kees in the ancestry (not ancestory) of those ‘real’ Dutch families. Whoever they may be. All I implied is that there aren’t many now that I’ve encountered. For that, there may even be a lot. Somewhere where I haven’t met them. In ‘real’ Netherlands. Not one of the few hundred people I’ve just finished teaching English was Kees. They may not have been Dutch people. Oh, sorry – dutch people, as you’ve put it.

  9. Frans Waarts:

    Hi, Tiffany
    Very nice post, I knew most of it and I enjoyed the comment of Frits Evenbly ’cause I didn’t know the Dutch version of the idiosyncrasies. Quite nice !
    Being Dutch myself I do agree with Peter Simon that you don’t hear the name Kees so much anymore but in the early days it was a very common name that stayed in the family for many generations, some even became familynames. Like Jan, his son would be Jan’s zoon (son) which becomes Janszoon and later Jansen.
    Frans (also a very common dutch name )

  10. Richard:

    Very good list! I am dutch, and didn’t know so much dutch words were used in english. But there was a word that was very important i thought. Apartheid.

  11. Jan Verstraete:

    Forlorn hope : verloren hoop?

  12. Abby:

    I totally disagree with your statement: “Certainly, if you speak Dutch, you’ll find similarities in German, but many native Dutch speakers can neither speak nor understand German.” On the contrary, I know a lot of Dutch people who speak really good German, French, Greek and English. So I guess no one should generalize.

    There are words like school, apartheid, african(afrikaans), etch (etsen), excise (excijs) and a lot more…

  13. John Van Der Laan:

    I taught my 45year old daughter Kerreina and her 40year old brother Robert, English, they are now teaching their kids who are 15, 12, 9, 7 and 3years old, 2 sets of twins 15 and 9, I now live in Stockport,Cheshire, UK, I live with my English wife Ruth who is now 71years old, after living in Blackpool, Lancashire, England and Galway, Ireland, we all go on big family holidays to the Netherlands and have been to Germany. All 13of us go every year

  14. Robert Van Der Laan:

    Thanks dad

  15. Ron:

    Rucksack is actually German. In Dutch it is ‘rugzak’ .

  16. Brian:

    Being English, one of the things that annoy me is when other nationalities say they speak English when they should really say that they speak American.
    If you ask most of them to write a couple of sentences most will spell certain words the American way.

    The Dutch even though they speak very good English are the worst for this.

    I recently spoke to a Dutch Nursery Teacher who did exactly this, when I pointed it out to her she was quite shocked as she thought she was teaching ‘English’ English

    • Sten:

      @Brian The main language is English. Maybe you could rather say you speak British, and those other people speak American. But it is both English, just written differently in some ways and pronounced differently. Though in terms of speaking, there is no difference in “apologise” and “apologize”. Also in the case of “colour” and “color”. I personally prefer the American way, but I am not English myself… So it does not annoy me as much. Don’t let it annoy you too much though! It is already quite amazing that, as an English person, you have the possibility to virtually go anywhere in the world and communicate with people in your mother tongue. I envy that sometimes! 😉

  17. Robert:

    There is one very important word missing: school!

  18. KB:

    I’m sure there are many maritime terms that English has taken from Dutch, ‘yacht’ (jacht), ‘keelhaul’ (kielhalen) are a couple that come to mind.

    Also I believe American sexual slang derives a few words directly from Dutch, probably sailors too: ‘nookie’ (neuken), ‘coochie’ (kutje), ‘oussy’ (poesje).

  19. Ed:

    Hi there,

    Nice list, with some new additions for my own list too. I do however have some additional information for you on the wagon/wagen listing.
    The word wagon does come from the Dutch word wagen, but it predates the train era, that is thoes with locomotives.
    A wagen in Dutch could refer to any (4 wheeled) vehicle. A boerenwagen for example is a farmers cart whereas “een wagen van de zaak” is a company car or a lease. Mostly it is used for something old or shabby in todays Dutch.
    It was first used in American English to refer to horse carriages, think the wagon trains. Now i am not sure, but I think that from these wagon trains the later locomotive drawn trains get their name (as they kind of look alike and took over from the wagon trains).
    Today in Dutch a train is a trein. Which we must have taken from English as there is no Dutch root for the word as in English. Now a wagon of this train could be called a wagen in Dutch, this does not specify that it’s a train wagon. To be more specific such a wagen in Dutch is called; wagon!

  20. Ferry:

    I heard an other word that they use in New York. They call the sidewalk there ‘stoop’. Which comes from the dutch word ‘stoep’ which in dutch has the same meaning.

  21. anonymous:

    I speak Afrikaans. I have Dutch, German, British, Indian heritage I find this absolutely fascinating. Especially the place names and language usage in New York and Pennsylvania. ditto for Pennsylvania dutch even if its really German.

  22. G.S. Meiningen:

    All very interesting, not to be crude or offensive, but as to the “American sexual slang” very much used throughout the western world is the Dutch word “Fokken”, simply means breeding as in “Fokken Koe” (breeding cow), of course in English is takes a whole different avenue. As to”Kees”, I live in California, the most productive farming region in the world is in the Great Central Valley. California has a big Dutch population. Milk production here is king, we all know, the Dutch a very proficient dairyman. Here are many by the name of “Kees” and they derive from being hereditary family names. I know of current immigrants by the name as it is common in the Netherlands. Also quite prevalent is the names “Case”, short for Cornelius and pronounced the same as “Kees”. In two families I know of where each is named Cornelius one goes by “Case” and the other goes by “Kees” and both phonetically sound out the same. Also sometimes, Cornelius is simply “Korny”. Many many Dutch words have been anglicized and over here, very Americanized. My 12the great grandmother was a Van Breuckelen, from the Utrecht area of Holland, in the USA, simply means Brooklyn, phonetically, almost said the same. Also, many changes occurred as the English took over New Amsterdam and even the Dutch began to make themselves appear like the English, this is where as even today in the USA, many who emigrate often shorten up their surnames or change somewhat to look a little more American. My family on two sides do not use “van”, “de’ and have dropped the “ma” at the end. And of course there are the Zwaart’s who now go by Black, some Groen’s who go by Green, the de Witt’s who now go by White. Oh well, as in my family who’s has been in this country since the first wave of Dutch migration (1640’s), we very much recognize as Americans. My first relative in country was named Jan Janzsen, he was not the only Jan Jan, it was a new world and time to take on a new identity in which many did. There is an old American poem that has this line,”My name is Jan Jansen, I come from Wisconsin” and that was identifying the confusion of all the many sons of John that came over from Holland and other parts of Europe where the “Patronymic” was used. Of course, look in the phone directory, ther are plenty of John Johnson’s and Pete Peterson’s as well. But a great topic to discuss. Ja Ja

  23. Susan Zuiker-Lewis:

    Please, can someone tell me what the occupation
    ” houtkopersknecht” would mean in English(American)?
    Thank you and dankuwel