Dutch Language Blog

Spreekwoorden en Uitdrukkingen (Sayings and Expressions) 7 – Wood Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

A new edition of Spreekwoorden en Uitdrukkingen! There are many different sayings and expressions, and there are plenty concerning hout (wood). Here are two that are used a lot and you will enjoy! Let’s start with the saying.

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

Van dik hout zaagt men planken

From thick wood one saws planks

This very common saying means that work is not done so nauwkeurig (carefully).

This saying is based on a simple waarheid (truth): with thick wood, you can saw planks. And if the wood is good, you don’t have to be so precise in sawing them. Later, this saying was accompanied with a certain boventoon (overtone): Being zorgeloos (careless/reckless) about the consequences of your actions. So it is not really positive feedback!


You can use it in any situation where you feel like people are not working careful enough. It is a very common saying, and so the use is accepted in all strands of life, from the very informal to the very formal.

Something special about this saying is that you can also use it as an uitdrukking! Something like “ik vind de manier waarop ze werken van dik hout zaagt men planken.” (I think the way they work is from thick woods one saws planks). This seems very strange in the sentence. Really, you can see “van dik hout zaagt men planken” as an adjective in this case, as it says something about the way they work.


Ik vind dat de koks op TV wel heel veel knoeien. Van dik hout zaagt men planken.

I really think that the TV chefs spill a lot. From thick wood you can saw planks.


On to the uitdrukking!

Iets op eigen houtje doen

To do something on one’s own wood

This uitdrukking means that you do something without telling or, especially, asking someone beforehand – you just do it. Often, it also implies that you actually should have informed somebody beforehand…

The origin of this uitdrukking is not conclusive. It probably originates from an old way to keep track of schulden (debts). The debtor and the lender would both get a little branch from the same piece of wood. They would both be notched, and that way both knew that there were schulden to be paid. It also meant that they had to be together when notching the wood. So if there was a piece of wood with a notch without a twin, then that person made a kerf (notch) op eigen houtje (on one’s own wood) – without talking to the other party!


You can use it, just like our saying today, in any situation, because it is a very common expression. You can also conjugate op eigen houtje with other verbs!


Anne besloot om op eigen houtje te gaan wandelen in het donkere bos.

Anne decided to go hiking in the dark forest on her own wood.


What do you think about these expressions? Do you have expressions like these in your country too? How would you translate these as accurate as possible in English? 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.