Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

596 Topics: Popular Idioms – “Dutch courage,” “Dutch treat/To go dutch,” and “Dutch uncle”; antique versus vintage; necessary versus needed; to make (one’s) case

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 596.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 596. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. In this Café, we’re going to talk about the Dutch. Why the Dutch, and who are the Dutch? Well, you’ll find out in this Café. And as always, we’ll answer a few questions. Let’s get started.

We’re going to talk a little today about the importance of the Dutch in American English. First we need to know who the Dutch are. The “Dutch” (Dutch) are people from the country of the Netherlands, which is sometimes called Holland. The Netherlands is a country, you probably know, in Western Europe, next to Germany and Belgium.

Why are we talking about the Dutch when it comes to American English? Well, because there are a lot of expressions in American English related to the Dutch. To understand why this is, we need to know a little bit about the history of the Dutch in the New World, in the Americas. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the English and the Dutch fought several wars. These wars were primarily over what we would call “trade.” “Trade” (trade) is the buying and selling of things, usually between countries.

The two countries of Great Britain and the Netherlands, or Holland, fought these wars largely to keep control of their own colonies. A “colony” (colony) is an area that is under the control of another country but that is usually located far away from that country. The British and the Dutch both had colonies around the world during these centuries, and there was, naturally, disagreements about these colonies, especially when it came to things as important as money – and trade is all about money.

One of the things that the countries tried to do was take control of the other countries’ colonies, especially here in what was called the New World, the Americas. The competition between the British and the Dutch in North America was particularly strong. Not surprisingly, then, the English or British didn’t like the Dutch very much, and the Dutch didn’t like the English.

Part of this hatred of each other eventually made its way into the language, so that over time, there began to be expressions in English – especially the English used in America about the Dutch – expressions that weren’t very, shall we say, favorable to the Dutch. They were expressions that didn’t exactly compliment or make the Dutch look very good. We’ll talk about some of those expressions – not because we want to pick on the Dutch, of course.

“To pick on” means to treat someone badly or unfairly. I’m not, and most Americans certainly are not against the Dutch even though we know these expressions and use them. Most people don’t think about the actual people of the Netherlands when we use these expressions. So if you’re in the Netherlands, please don’t get mad at me for explaining these, what are after all, common expressions.

The word “Dutch,” in England and in the American colonies back in the eighteenth century, came to be used to mean false or not real. We have, for example, the expression or idiom “Dutch courage.” “Courage” (courage) refers to strength or confidence that you are going to be able to beat someone else. “Courage” is bravery – being strong even though things are difficult.

The idiom “Dutch courage,” however, refers to drinking too much alcohol. The idea, of course, is that you need to drink alcohol in order to feel brave, in order to have courage. An example where we might use this expression, or this idiom, is if you want to go over to a beautiful woman and ask for her telephone number or ask her out on a date, you may say, “I need some Dutch courage” – that is, I need to drink some alcohol so I feel more confident or I feel braver going over and talking to her.

Some people say that this phrase came in part from the English seeing the Dutch drink a particular kind of alcohol called “gin” (gin). Gin basically has no color. It looks like water. Gin was very common among the Dutch soldiers as a drink, but it was not yet very popular in England at this time. So the English may be just referring to the Dutch’s habit of drinking gin. Other people say that “Dutch courage” is really an insult to the Dutch, saying that they are not very brave, that they are “cowards.”

A “coward” (coward) is someone who is the opposite of “brave,” the opposite of “courageous” – someone who, for example, might run away if there is a dangerous situation instead of staying and fighting. The fact was, of course, that the Dutch were just as brave as the English and had fought many battles and many wars, but when you are making up insults about your enemy, about someone you oppose, especially in a war, you’re not exactly thinking of the fairest, most accurate descriptions of them.

There are other Dutch-related idioms in English. We don’t use some of these phrases today, but in the old days, the English used terms such as “Dutch wife.” A “Dutch wife” (wife) is not someone you’re married to. A wife, of course, is married to a husband. The wife is the woman. The husband is the man. But a “Dutch wife” was a woman whom you paid to have sexual relations with – a “prostitute,” in other words. This is not a term we still use, however. No one would understand the phrase “Dutch wife” if you used it today.

Similarly, the expression “Dutch gold” is no longer used, but back at the time when the British and the Dutch were fighting each other, “Dutch gold” (gold) referred to anything that looked shiny or expensive but was, in fact, not – something that was fake. “Gold” is a very valuable yellow-colored metal, but “Dutch gold” is something that is basically worthless – that is, it is of poor quality. It doesn’t cost very much money and is of no real use.

Another common expression from this period which is still used today in American English is the expression “to go Dutch,” or simply “Dutch treat” (treat). A “treat” is a nice bonus or a nice gift that you get, or some nice thing that you may do for yourself. The verb “to treat” means to invite someone to dinner, or for a drink, and for you to pay for it. So, if I’m going to “treat you” to dinner, I am going to take you to a restaurant and I am going to pay for your food. I am treating you. A “Dutch treat,” however, is when we both pay for our own meals.

Similarly, the expression “to go Dutch” means that I will pay for my food and you will pay for your food. We’re not treating each other. If, for example, you invite a woman out on a date, you, as a man, are normally expected to pay for the meal, the movie, and so forth. However, if you discover that this girl you invited out isn’t really interested in you, or perhaps is just talking about her old boyfriend the whole time, you may, at the end of your meal, say, “You know what? Let’s go Dutch.” You pay for your meal and I’ll pay for mine. Now of course, you shouldn’t really do that, guys, though I’m sure some people have.

Some researchers say that the expression “Dutch treat” refers to something called “Dutch doors” (doors). Dutch doors are doors traditionally found on a farm building, with a top half and a bottom half. In other words, the door has two parts, so that you can open the top of the door while keeping the bottom part of the door closed. This is very useful if you want to get air or light into, say, a place where you’re keeping animals but you don’t want the animals to leave that building. We normally call that building a “barn” (barn). A barn is where you keep animals and other things from a farm.

Some people think that the term “Dutch treat” comes from these popular Dutch doors since they are split in two – there are two halves – although I don’t know if that’s true or not. Another explanation is that this is yet another insult to the Dutch. The idea here is that the Dutch had a “reputation” for being “tight-fisted.” A “reputation” means what people think about you, either good characteristics or bad characteristics. The expression “tight” (tight) – fisted (fisted)” means that you are not willing to spend money, that you don’t like to spend very much money.

Your “fist” is your hand – your palm and your fingers put together so that they form a ball. If you can imagine holding money in your hands and making sure that your hands don’t open, you would form a tight or a very strong fist or ball with your fingers and palm so that you don’t lose your money. If you say someone is “tight-fisted,” you mean that he doesn’t like to spend very much money. We might also say, simply, he’s “tight.” That is, he’s cheap. He doesn’t spend a lot of money.

I’ll mention just one more Dutch-related phrase that is, again, still used in American English, though perhaps not as common as it was say a few generations ago, several years ago, and that is “Dutch uncle.” An “uncle” (uncle) is the brother of either your father or your mother. Often we think of our uncles as being kind to us. In fact, there is even a term “avuncular” (avuncular) to describe someone who is very kind and understanding like an uncle would be to his nephew, the son of his brother or sister, or niece, the daughter of his brother or sister.

A “Dutch uncle,” however, is someone who gives you advice, but not in a very nice way. A Dutch uncle gives you advice in a very direct, we might say, “harsh” (harsh) way. A Dutch uncle might scold you. “To scold” (scold) is basically to tell someone he did something wrong in a very mean or even angry way. I’m not sure why that term is associated with the Dutch – again, it seems to be an insulting term implying that the Dutch are not very nice.

“Dutch uncle” is not used as much as “Dutch courage” or “to go Dutch,” but it is still around. Again, the reputation of the Dutch perhaps as being very “stern” (stern), meaning very serious and strict, and following all the rules might be the origin or the reason why we have this expression “Dutch uncle.”

So, those are some English idioms that communicate the rather historically unfriendly relations between the English and the Dutch. I’m sure the Dutch have expressions about the English that aren’t very kind either.

Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Megumi (Megumi) in Japan. Megumi wants to know the difference between “antique” (antique) and “vintage” (vintage). This is a good question. It’s usually said that something is “antique” if it is at least 100 years old. Why 100? Why not 50? Why not 200? I don’t know. That’s just the common use of that term for people who buy and sell old things. So, I’m recording this in the year 2017. Anything made in 1917 or before could be considered an antique.

Now, normally we use this expression for certain kinds of objects, such as chairs or jewelry, other kinds of furniture – tables and so on. You could have just about any object be called an “antique.” It’s not used as much when describing artwork, however. I don’t think we would commonly refer to an “antique painting” or an “antique sculpture,” although it’s possible. The word “antique” in general just means really old.

In the U.S. and probably most countries, there are things called “antique stores” that sell old things, often jewelry or pottery – things made out of clay – and different kinds of furniture. I personally love going to old antique stores and looking at old watches or looking at old furniture. I say “looking at” because I don’t have the money to buy anything, but I like to look at the old things.

The word “vintage” refers, then, to anything – especially clothing – that was popular in a particular period, usually more recently than 100 years ago. So, you might have, for example, vintage clothing from the 1960s or the 1950s – or I guess, nowadays, from the 1980s. Anything, then, that is old but not antique might be called “vintage.”

There are other uses, however, of the word “vintage.” “Vintage” is used in particular in dating a bottle of wine. The “vintage date” is the date that the grapes were grown and the wine was made. We might say, “Well, this wine is vintage 1979.” That’s the year the wine was made. I think that’s right, although I’m not an expert on winemaking.

We use the term “vintage” more generally to talk about something that is old but is perhaps of a high quality. It might also be used to describe something that is characteristic of a certain person – something that is typical of that person from a certain era, a certain period of time, or because of its high quality. If I said, “This story is vintage Sherlock Holmes,” I mean it is one of the best examples of a Sherlock Holmes story. It is very high quality.

Our next question, also from Japan, comes from Yosh (Yosh). The question has to do with two words, “necessary” (necessary) and “needed” (needed). Something that is “necessary” is so important that you have to have it, or that it must be done. “It is necessary to read and listen to English in order to improve your English.” It cannot be done in any other way. You must do this. There is no other option, no other choice.

“Needed” can mean the exact same thing as “necessary.” Something that is “needed” is something that you have to have, something that is required. “Necessary” is an adjective. “Needed” comes from the verb “to need.” So, we would say something is “needed,” using the verb “to need” in the past participle form. “This is needed” is the same as “This is necessary.” You might ask, “What is necessary to improve my English?” “What is needed to improve my English?” Both of those mean basically the same thing.

Our final question comes from Babak (Babak) in Iran. The question has to do with the expression “to make your case” (case). What does it mean, for example, if a politician stands up and says he wants “to make his case” for a certain policy or a certain proposal?

“To make your case” means to present a convincing argument, or to give good reasons why something should be done or why you believe what you believe. We use the preposition “for” (for) in describing the policy or idea that you are trying to advance, or that you believe in. “I am going to make my case for getting rid of all cats in our cities.” That’s my idea.

We use the preposition “to” (to) when we’re talking about the people to whom we are trying to address or the people we want to convince, we want to persuade. “The president of the United States makes his case to the American people,” the people who live in the United States. That’s the group of people he needs to persuade or convince. We make our case “for” a certain idea or policy. We make our case “to” the group of people we want to persuade or convince.

If you have a question or comment, you can email us. Our email address is eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café is written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. This podcast is copyright 2017 by the Center for Educational Development.

trade – the buying and selling of goods (things) and services, usually with other countries

* To increase international trade, we need to lower import/export restrictions.

colony – an area under the control of a faraway country’s government, but with settlers or people living there from that country

* At the height of the British Empire, Britain had colonies on nearly every continent.

Dutch courage – strength or confidence one gets by drinking alcohol

* Do you need some Dutch courage or are you ready to speak in front of all these people?

coward – a person afraid to do things that may be dangerous or that might cause pain

* Carlos feels like a coward because he doesn’t like the sight of blood and won’t give blood.

worthless – having no useful purpose; being of poor quality and of no use

* These cheap tools are worthless! They keep breaking when I try to use them.

Dutch treat / to go Dutch – for each participant to pay for his or her own expenses, such a meal or a type of entertainment

* My coworkers and I often go out to lunch together, but we always go Dutch.

Dutch door – a type of door traditionally found on farms divided into a top and bottom half, so that one can open the top half to allow air and light in, while closing the bottom half to keep animals out

* This cottage is charming with its Dutch door and picture windows.

tight-fisted – frugal; miserly; not being willing to spend money

* Our boss is so tight-fisted that he hasn’t given any employee a raise in two years!

avuncular – behaving in a kind and understanding way to those who are younger and/or less experienced

* Jo is lucky that Oscar is training her. He is avuncular and patient.

Dutch uncle – a person, usually a man, who gives one advice to be helpful, but does so in a direct, harsh, or severe way

* Don’t behave like a Dutch uncle with your son’s friend. He’s old enough to make his own decisions.

to scold – to tell someone they’ve done something wrong in a critical and perhaps angry way

* Julio and Bernardo’s mother scolded them for coming home dirty from head to toe.

stern – being very serious and strict, requiring rules be followed closely and strongly disapproving of bad or unapproved behavior

* Don’t look at me in that stern manner. I didn’t mean to lose my keys again.

antique – an item that is collected and has a value because of its age; items of quality that are at least 100 years old; very old

* This dresser is an antique passed on to me by my mother, who got it from her grandmother.

vintage – items, especially clothing, popular in and is clearly from a particular period in the past

* Carla likes dressing in vintage clothing from the 1950s.

necessary – so important that one must do it or have it; absolutely needed

* Passing your advance math classes is necessary if you plan to study astrophysics.

needed – in a situation in which one must have something; requiring something; necessary

* Mohammad’s pants needed ironing, so he took out the iron and ironing board.

to make (one’s) case – to explain why something should be done or why something was done to convince others that the right actions were taken or will be taken

* You can try making your case to your parents that you need to have your own car to get to and from school, but I doubt they’ll buy you one.

What Insiders Know
Double Dutch

Many children love “playing jump rope” where they hold the ends of a “rope” (a length of strong string) in each hand and practice jumping over it as they swing it around their body. The more advanced players enjoy playing “double Dutch.”

In double Dutch, two people stand “apart” (separated, not next to each other) but facing each other. They each hold the ends of one long rope in one hand, and the ends of another long rope in their other hand. They turn these ropes in opposite directions like an “eggbeater” (a small metal tool that is “cranked” (moved in circles using a handle) to stir eggs very quickly, incorporating air into the mixture). One or more other players have to jump over the ropes as they hit the ground. Advanced players perform “tricks” (fancy, difficult moves) while jumping over ropes, such as “flips” (when one’s body turns in the air) or “moves” (dance moves; techniques) from “breakdancing” (an energetic style of dance which began on the streets).

Historians believe that the game might “have its origins” (come from; have originated in) ancient Egypt and China, but the “Dutch” (people from the Netherlands) “settlers” (people who immigrate and come to live in a new place) brought the game to New York City, and it became very popular in American cities during World War II.

Every year, the international Double Dutch Contest allows teams to “show off” (demonstrate for others to admire) their double Dutch skills in impressive “athletic” (related to sports) and artistic “feats” (accomplishments that require significant talent, skill, and strengths) often “set to music” (performed while music is playing).