Dutch Language Blog

Untranslatable Dutch: Pottenkijkers Posted by on Oct 18, 2016 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

There are certain words that are used in a language and are impossible to translate. You can try, but it will never be a completely accurate translation that catches its meaning. Such as the Zesjescultuur post. In the Untranslatable Dutch posts, we will explore Dutch words that cannot be simply translated to English. Enjoy!

Click here for more untranslatable words


Watching another cat without asking… A pottenkijker! (Image by Emmanuel Zensz at Flickr.com under license CC BY 2.0)

Today, we will discuss the word Pottenkijkers (literally “pot watchers”). A pottenkijker is a spion (spy), a bemoeial (busybody), or, as the Dutch dictionary Van Dale says: iemand die je op de vingers kijkt (“somebody that looks you on the fingers” – click the link to read what that means). So essentially, a pottenkijker is somebody that is watching curiously without asking. Which has nothing to do with pots! Or does it? Where does this word come from?

The origin

It is unclear what the origin of the word exactly is. Here are two suggestions, though.

The toilet

In the TV show Toen Geluk Nog Heel Gewoon Was (When Happiness Was Still Totally Normal), Simon suggests that the word comes from when the first pot (toilet) was placed. To see the sensation, all visitors would check out the new pot – and so the word pottenkijker came into existence. It is a comedy show, so this is probably rather a joke than anything else.

What’s for dinner?

Other, more plausible explanations refer to pot in the sense of kookpot (cooking pot). For example, when the man came into the kitchen to see what was on the stove for dinner. He would check out the pots, see what his wife is making – a pottenkijker. And because his wife feels intruded and interrupted while cooking, he is an obvious pottenkijker.

Het keukenlampje

The word pottenkijker does not only refer to an obtrusive observer. A pottenkijker can also be a keukenlampje (little kitchen lamp), that hangs above the fornuis (stove), so to it easier to look inside the pots. This seems to relate to the “what’s for dinner?” theory – so maybe that is the one!

Oh, and by the way, if you are wondering: pot does not refer to marihuana in the Netherlands.

What do you think – where does this word come from? Do you have a word like this in your language? 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. Anita:

    I was told by my Dutch friends that “pot” is also a slang term for lesbian.

    • Sten:

      @Anita Yes, that is right. Who knows, maybe it comes from that?

  2. Bram:

    To my understanding, definitely someone who checks the pots to see what’s for dinner. That’s all groovy unless it’s an uninvited guest.