Dutch Language Blog

Untranslatable Dutch Words: Potloodventer Posted by on Feb 23, 2019 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

Another untranslatable word for you today – de potloodventerPotloodventers are exhibitionists, flashers. Yet the word potloodventer is a bit more specific… Let’s figure it out!

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The meaning and equivalents

The word potloodventer literally means “pencil dude”. The closest equivalent would be “flasher”. Though due to the nature of the Dutch word, it always refers to a man – why is that?

The Trenchcoat

You are on Facebook, scrolling through all the stuff people post. You stop – this one strikes you. Aliens have visited Earth? It is breaking news? You decide to click – and suddenly the recognizable 80s drums of “Never Gonna Give You Up” start playing. You just got rickrolled.

If this happened to you, like to so many of us, then you have undoubtedly also picked up on Rick’s catchy moves in that long, beige trenchcoat. Excellent stuff.

German Trenchcoat from the 1950s (Image by Das Bundesarchiv at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 3.0)

But wait a second… How is that related to the potloodventer?

Well, you probably know that such trenchcoats are generally used to sell illegal goods, that need to be hidden from the general public, only intended for the specific person you are offering it to. Hiding the goods in the trenchcoat mean nobody sees it, and it can easily disappear. Perfect for selling drugs, pocket dictionaries or, as Ernie learned, eights:

And, unfortunately, this is also a handy trick for exhibitionists. The traditional trenchcoat gets wound up here, because of the second word of the samenstellingventerVenter nowadays means something like “dude”, related to the word vent. However, traditionally it meant koopman (salesman), from the French venter. So a potloodventer is a “pencil salesman”.

De Potlood

Bruynzeel pencils (Image by Coldbolt at Commons.wikimedia.org under license BY SA 3.0)

The other part of the salesman is the potlood, the pencil. I don’t think I need to explain any further what that refers to. The question remains, where does the association come from?

The term potlood as a synonym for the male genitalia apparently comes from the Dutch military, where the order to go prone could also be given as “potlood in de grond” (pencil in the ground).

The term was used for the first time in combination with the word venter in the 1970s, by the Dutch police. It was picked up by news outlets, and a new term was born.

There are other synonyms, such as voorjaarskrokus or vendelzwaaier. Let me know if you would like to get the background for those terms in future posts!

A direct synonym for the potloodventer also exists: The bruynzeelvertegenwoordiger (Bruynzeel consultant). Bruynzeel is a Dutch company known for its keukens (kitchens) these days, but used to be a very well known pencil maker. You get the point.


The official word for the offense of showing your genitals to somebody in public is schennispleging (profanation). It is punishable with a boete (fine) or drie maanden gevangenisstraf (a three months prison sentence) under Article 239 of the Wetboek van Strafrecht (Dutch Criminal Code). So somebody that acts out schennispleging is officially known as a schennispleger, and that is also the language used by the politie (police) if you want to do aangifte (report a crime).


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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. Joseph T Madawela:

    This was great thank you hope you do some more like this.