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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What are some common Dutch idioms?
Atie: And how are they used?
Michael: At DutchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Karen Lee hears an idiom she's not familiar with. She asks Jose Jansen: "What does ‘Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve' mean?"
Karen Lee: Wat betekent "nu komt de aap uit de mouw?"
Karen Lee: Wat betekent "nu komt de aap uit de mouw?"
José Jansen: Nederlanders gebruiken deze uitdrukking wanneer het ware karakter van iemand duidelijk wordt of wanneer de waarheid in een bepaalde situatie boven water komt.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Wat betekent "nu komt de aap uit de mouw?"
Michael: "What does 'Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve' mean?"
José Jansen: Nederlanders gebruiken deze uitdrukking wanneer het ware karakter van iemand duidelijk wordt of wanneer de waarheid in een bepaalde situatie boven water komt.
Michael: "The Dutch use this expression when a person shows their true colors or when the truth about a situation is revealed."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we are going to look at a few popular Dutch idioms and see how to use them. But first—what is an idiom or an idiomatic expression?
According to the online dictionary, idioms are popular phrases and expressions with meanings that are not deductible from the words alone. They are important parts of a language because they tend to use imagery that communicates a concept or idea in a colorful, effective way. Linguists say that idioms spice up a language and give it its unique character.
Many idioms are unique to a language and when translated word-for-word, they can sound puzzling or like nonsense to a non-native ear. For instance, imagine your English boss instructing you at the office to put something on ice. What does she mean? Well, we freeze food and drinks when we don't need to use them immediately, which is the idea behind the saying. Your boss is using an idiomatic expression to tell you to put something on hold, such as a project or meeting.
Fully grasping the meaning of idiomatic expressions in a language is often reserved for its native speakers only, but, if you're a student, don't let that stop you from using them. In fact, that's an effective way to sound just like a native!
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's start by taking a closer look at the dialogue. Do you remember how Karen Lee asks, "What does 'Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve' mean?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as Karen Lee: Wat betekent "nu komt de aap uit de mouw?"
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now for the second sentence. Can you remember how Jose replies: "The Dutch use this expression when a person shows their true colors or when the truth about a situation is revealed?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Atie as José Jansen: Nederlanders gebruiken deze uitdrukking wanneer het ware karakter van iemand duidelijk wordt of wanneer de waarheid in een bepaalde situatie boven water komt.
Michael: The idiom doesn't need much explanation and you could use it like this, for instance.
Atie: De aap kwam uit de mouw. Ben had de fiets gestolen.
Michael: This means: "The truth was revealed. Ben had stolen the bike."
It's interesting to know the origin of an idiom, even though it is often obscure and difficult to trace. In this case, legend has it that magicians and clowns used monkeys as part of their repertoire. They would skillfully hide the little guy from the audience in one of their own sleeves, and then unexpectedly release the monkey as a surprise trick. So, the idiom was born to indicate any revelation.
Now, let's continue to discuss more examples of Dutch idioms. The next one literally means "to talk about little cows and little calves,"
Atie: over koetjes en kalfjes praten,
Michael: and it refers to chatting about trivial, everyday matters. It describes any conversation that is the opposite of serious and its English equivalent is "small talk." Suppose, for instance, you have just met up with a friend for coffee and afterward someone asks what the two of you have been doing. Then, you could reply like this:
Atie: We hebben net gechat. Gewoon koetjes en kalfjes.
Michael: which means: "We just chatted. Only small talk." Apparently, this saying was used with reference to farmers who chatted mainly about their farming. Their conversation was trivial talk to the ears of non-farmers. Our next idiom is an interesting one.
Atie: De kogel is door de kerk.
Michael: This literally means: "The bullet is through the church." Its origins are not a hundred percent certain, but already in ancient times, temples and other sanctuaries were safe hiding places for fugitives. Even by law, churches have historically been used for the same purpose, such as during wartime. However, churches were attacked despite these laws and this gave rise to the idiom.
When bullets hit the building, it was a sure indication that those in hiding were no longer safe and that they could not avoid their fate. And so the idiom came to communicate a similar finality. It denotes that irrevocable decisions have been made, Consider this sentence, for instance:
Atie: De kogel is door de kerk. We gaan het bedrijf sluiten.
Michael: which means: "It's final. We are going to close the business."
The idiom denotes a sense of gravity, but it is not only used in negative situations. You could also use it for dramatic effect, such as when you're making a wedding announcement.
Atie: De kogel is door de kerk! We gaan trouwen!
Michael: This means, "It's final! We are getting married!"
The next idiom we're going to discuss is:
Atie: Wie boter op zijn hoofd heeft, moet uit de zon blijven.
Michael: This means, "someone who has butter on his head should stay out of the sun," and it has nothing to do with food or hair treatments! Again, the origins are not quite clear, but the expression is similar in meaning to the English idiom, "Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones."
Some speculate that it originated in the days before motorcars, supermarkets, and shopping carts, when shoppers carried groceries on their heads. You can imagine the mess on a person's head if the butter sat in the sun for too long!
In this idiom, the sun is symbolic of close scrutiny, and the butter of one's personal circumstances. It implies that it's wise not to judge another's situation or circumstances if your own are imperfect.
Idioms are interesting, aren't they?! But we're not done with butter yet. The next one translates to "Dirty butter, dirty fish."
Atie: Vuile boter, vuile vis.
Michael: Any good cook will know that a dish is only as good as its ingredients. Literally, if you use rancid butter to fry fish in, it will also spoil the fish. The idiom means that, without the right equipment or tools, the final product or outcome of any endeavour will not be great.
Imagine that a child needs to cut pictures out of a newspaper for a school project, but they don't have scissors handy. Because they're impatient, they want to tear out the pictures instead. Then, a parent could say:
Atie: Gebruik liever de schaar, want vuile boter, vuile vis.
Michael: This means: "Rather use the scissors (to cut with), because 'dirty butter, dirty fish'."
Now for the next one. What does your Dutch friend mean when they ask you, "Have you fallen off the stairs?"
Atie: Ben je van de trap gevallen?
Michael: Well, it doesn't mean you look injured and broken! Or rather, not all of you—only your hair. This is a common Dutch comment when someone has just had a drastic haircut. It's uncertain where the idiom originated, but some speculate that it may be a shortened version of an expression which first appeared in nineteenth-century books:
Atie: Hij is van de trap gevallen en heeft zijn haar gebroken
Michael: This literally means, "He fell off the stairs and broke his hair." The expression is a harmless joke and not criticism. It simply means that your hair is much shorter after the cut.
You'll never guess what the next idiom means!
Atie: Iets onder de knie hebben.
Michael: This means to have something "under the knee." Think of two men wrestling and one forces the other into submission by pressing him down with one knee. A grip like this will often render the opponent helpless and assure victory to the other. So, the idiom indicates that you've won a symbolic battle and mastered something difficult, a meaning that should be clear from this sentence:
Atie: Mijn studenten hebben de woordenschat onder de knie.
Michael: And it means, "My students have mastered the vocabulary." The next one is interesting too. It means "a blow from the windmill."
Atie: Een klap van de molen.
Michael: If you are familiar with the crazy fictional knight Don Quixote and his infamous fight against the windmills, you will get the idea behind this expression. The Dutch use it for a person or an animal that is not completely in their right mind or that is acting strangely. Say, for instance, your cat acts up for no reason during a friend's visit. Then, to explain, you would say:
Atie: Negeer de kat. Ze heeft een klap van de molen gekregen.
Michael: which means: "Don't mind the cat. She is a bit crazy." Let's consider a less violent idiom next!
Atie: Daar kan ik geen chocolade van maken.
Michael: This means, "Of that, I can't make chocolate," and it is used when you want to say that something is unclear or incomprehensible to you. It's somewhat similar to the English idiom, "It's all Greek to me." For instance, imagine you have just finished an exam that didn't go too well because you didn't understand the questions. Then, you would tell your friend afterward:
Atie: De vragen waren onbegrijpelijk. Ik kon er geen chocolade van maken.
Michael: This means: "The questions were incomprehensible. It was all Greek to me."
The next idiom is: "Now my wooden shoe breaks." Don't worry, it's not as puzzling as it sounds! Remember, the Dutch people's traditional gear included beautifully crafted wooden shoes called "clogs" or
Atie: klompen.
Michael: So, when you say
Atie: nu breekt mijn klomp!
Michael: which means "now my clog breaks!'', it indicates that you are speechless with either surprise or exasperation. An English speaker would say that they are stumped by something. Imagine you and your partner are about to go out, but your car keys are not where you always keep them. If they're still missing after a thorough search, then you would say:
Atie: Nu breekt mijn klomp! Waar kunnen mijn sleutels zijn??!
Michael: It means, "I am stumped! Where can my keys be?!" Perhaps your partner could use the next idiom in reply.
Atie: De aanhouder wint.
Michael: This translates to "The one who perseveres, wins," and, in conversations, it is used as an encouraging reminder. Your partner could say, for instance:
Atie: Geen stress! We zoeken tot we het hebben. De aanhouder wint.
Michael: "Don't stress! We will look till we find them. The one who perseveres, wins," which is what we hope you will do with your Dutch studies!
Michael: I'm sure you have recognized some idioms here, as many are used in other languages too. Also, they are so regularly used that one often only has to mention a word or two for listeners to get the meaning. For instance, simply saying
Atie: vuile boter
Michael: in the right context will be enough for a native speaker to understand what you mean.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Atie: Doei!
Michael: See you soon!