Untranslatable Dutch: Pottenkijkers Posted by Sten 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!
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?
It is unclear what the origin of the word exactly is. Here are two suggestions, though.
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.
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!