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9 Cool Dutch Words With No English Translation

Living in the Netherlands can be easy for English speakers as everyone speaks decent English. However, some Dutch words have no English equivalent, so even if the local try to translate them to you, the sense and feeling of the expressions could go missing. It’s fine if you just want to get by, but the reward is high once you learn what they mean.

Why You Want To Know About Untranslatable Words

When a word is not translatable, it’s often the case that it conveys a concept, an attitude, or a cultural aspect that exists in the Netherlands but perhaps nowhere else. It means that once you use those words, you can express yourself quicker with all the nuances.

These nine words won’t do the magic straight away, but once you read through them, you will start to see what I mean. If you can use them, you would feel more like an insider. The Dutch is famous for being tolerant and friendly with foreigners, but once you speak the language, you will feel those qualities in a much deeper sense.

If you are new to the Netherlands, the Dutch sounds and its extremely long words might be intimidating. You think the language would be too hard to learn. Most people speak perfect English anyway, you tell yourself. Eventually, you would want to learn Dutch, though, because knowing the language makes your life here easier, more enjoyable and perhaps more “gezelig”. Learning the language gives you that knowledge, confidence and opportunity.

9 Awesomely Untranslatable Dutch Words

  1. Gezellig

Gezellig is most likely the first untranslatable word you would encounter as Dutch people use it all the time.  They could say “Een gezellig cafe” (a cosy cafe), “het gezellig bezoek” (the friendly visit), or “een gezellige vrouw” (a convivial woman). You can see that the word “gezellig” could be used to describe a place, a social gathering or a person, meaning “good” or “nice” and a bit more. It’s about being social and being cosy.


  1. Uitwaaien

In the word “uitwaaien,” “uit” means “out” and “waaien” means “to blow”. You go out for the wind to blow away worrying thoughts. It is a way to remember the meaning of “uitwaaien” — going for a walk to clear your head.


  1. Lekker

Lekker is another word that you hear a lot when the Dutch talk to each other. It’s often used to describe the food as being tasty, but there are ways more usage of this word. “Ga lekker zitten” means “to make yourself comfortable, make yourself at home”. “Lekker lang uitslapen” means that you sleep in long and nicely. You can also use “lekker” for a person that you enjoy hanging out with like “een lekker meid” (a nice girl). Kids sometimes say to each other “lekker puh!” meaning “serves you right!”


  1. Uitzieken

This word is another expression that illustrates the common attitude found among the people in the Netherlands. The doctors often advocate “uitzieken” or to wait, take it easy and let the body heal itself. You “sick it out” until you recover instead of hastily taking medication.


  1. Afbellen

The Dutch is very social and often make a plan, to have dinner or a beer with friends, way in advance. It doesn’t mean, though, that an appointment can’t be cancelled. When someone, especially a date, does it over the phone, “afbellen” is the word for it. It has the subtle difference to “afzeggen” which is to cancel in general.


  1. IJsberen

As a noun, “ijsberen” means “polar bears”, rooting from the singular noun “ijsbeer” (polar bear). As a verb, “ijsberen” can’t be entirely translated into one word in English. It refers to the act of pacing up and down because you are either nervous or bored. The expression derived from the behaviour of polar bears in captivity when they walk around in the same circle or movement again and again.


  1. Gedogen

This word means to turn a blind eye to something. It reflects the tolerant attitude of the country when it comes to things like drug or prostitution laws.


  1. Uitbuiken

“Uit” again means “out” while “buiken” means bellies. Together, they make a word meaning “to have bellies out, often after a lot of eating and / or drinking”.


  1. Beleg

If you are working in a Dutch company, you must have noticed that sandwiches (i.e. “boterhammen”) are the very typical food for lunch. When the Dutch eat one piece of bread (een boterham), they put “beleg” on the bread, which could be anything from standard ham and cheese to sweet chocolate sprinkles (de hagelslag).


This list of nine words is just the start. I hope you enjoy reading it and it will encourage you to learn more Dutch. If you know other words that you have struggled to translate into English, share with us below!


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About the author:

quynh-150x150Quynh Nguyen writes about productivity for individuals and teams while travelling the world. She loves learning languages, riding a bike and having many nice cups of tea. Connect with her @QuynhThuNguyen or visit her at www.quynh.nl

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