The Dutch Influence in Everyday American English

Being a native English speaker, I grew up on a steady diet of American programming. Americanised words, names and terminology became as familiar to me as the English I heard around me every day. Being from Ireland, I already understood that English words could be vastly different from country to country, so adding American English to the mix came naturally.

Of course, I’m not the only one who was influenced by American English. Worldwide, over centuries of the travelling of people and ideas, many words made it back from the Americas and reintegrated with European English. It’s a lovely little symbiotic circle of language.

However, it was not until I moved to the Netherlands that, suddenly, the pieces started to fall into place about how deeply British English, Dutch and American English are interconnected. As I learned the Dutch language, so many words straight out of an American TV show emerged, like cookie. I always knew we said biscuits, and across the Atlantic they called them cookies. But I had no idea this derived from the Dutch word for biscuits, koekje. Later, I will run through all the words which have seeped from Dutch into English, but first let’s look at the history of the matter.

Brief Background

The Netherlands was among the small group of European nations that claimed ownership of territories in North America in 17th-century. In 1602, the United East India Company (VOC) was created to find a new route to the spice rich East. This led to exploration of the Staten and Manhattan Islands via the Hudson River, later named for the navigator of the exploration, Henry Hudson.

New Netherland map by Nicolaas Visscher II (1649-1702)

They were also eager to set up a fur trade with the indigenous people of North America. This led to the creation of the West India Company (WIC), charted by the Dutch Government to develop trade in the New World. A permanent colony was established, named New Netherland, with the first permanent settlers arriving in 1624. They landed in what is now known as New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut.

Whilst a lucrative fur trade was developed with many farms and villages being established across the mid-Atlantic region, the Dutch struggled to sustain the colony. It proved difficult to attract settlers from the relatively prosperous Netherlands. This, along with the growing influence of (and conflict with) the neighbouring British settlement of New England, put an end to the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam in 1664 to the English, who promptly renamed it New York.

However, as the areas began to be saturated with an English influence, the Dutch influence remained a permanent fixture, and what emerged was a mixture of cultural influences to be combined into one.

Today, the Dutch influence in the United States is clear, but often goes unnoticed. Many things I took to be quintessentially American, I now realise evolved out of those years when the Dutch landed on the continent. The “American barn” looks just like those all across the Netherlands. The credits to an American programme include so many surnames which contain Dutch words or occupations. From architecture to place names to everyday words, the Dutch imprint is evident in North America, and, therefore by default, the rest of the English speaking world.

Now, let’s run through them in more detail. These lists are staggering in their expansiveness, so for the sake of brevity, I haven’t included everything.

Words – Places – Names

Words

Beaker – From the Dutch beker meaning cup

Boss – From the word baas meaning the same thing in both languages

Brandy – Originates from the Dutch word brandewijn which literally means “burned wine”

Cockatoo – From the Dutch kaketoe for the same creature

Coleslaw – From the Dutch koolsla, meaning “cabbage salad”

Cookie – From the Dutch word koekje meaning “biscuit”

Cruise – Originated from the Dutch verb kruisen, which means “to cross”

Dam – Unsurprisingly this is a direct Dutch word

Decoy – Originating from the Dutch words de (“the”) and kooi (“cage”) referring to a pond surrounded by nets into which wildfowl were lured for capture

Easel – An interesting and evocative origin coming from ezel, the Dutch for “donkey”, out of the word schildersezel meaning “painter’s donkey”

Frolic – From the Dutch vrolijk, meaning “happy” or “cheerful”

Gin – Both the word and the drink originate from the Dutch drink jenever

Hankering – From the Dutch word for “yearning”, hunkeren

Kink – From kink referring to a twist in a rope

Landscape – From landschap which has the same meaning in both languages

Luck – From Middle Dutch luc, a shortening of gheluc, meaning “happiness” or “good fortune”

Poppycock – From pappekak which is Dutch dialect for “soft dung”

Pump – Comes from the word pomp, meaning “pump” (as in a petrol or bicycle pump)

Puss – From the Dutch word referring to a “cat”, poes

Rucksack – Originated from the Dutch word for “backpack”, rugzak; rug meaning “back” and zak being “bag”.

Roster – This comes from rooster, the Dutch word for “timetable” or “schedule”

Santa Claus – Our festive gift giver’s name is derived from Sinterklaas (“Saint Nicholas”), who is believed to be a bishop of Minor Asia who became a patron saint for children

Smelt – From smelten, the Dutch verb “to melt”

Snuff – From snuiftabak, literally “sniff tobacco”

Spook – This is a direct Dutch word for a ghost, phantom, or spirit

Waffle – Comes from the Dutch word wafel meaning the same thing

Wagon – Relates to the Dutch word wagen (used when referring to trains)

Places

Amsterdam, NY – The origin of this place name speaks for itself, one of the Netherland’s most famous cities

Bergen County, New Jersey – Named after Bergen op Zoom in the south of the Netherlands

Bowery, The – A New York neighbourhood coming from the Dutch term de bouwerij (meaning “the construction site”)

Brielle, NJ – Named after Brielle in South Holland

Bronx, The – Named for the Dutch immigrant, Jonas Bronck

Coney Island – Originates from the Dutch words konijn and eiland, literally meaning “Rabbit Island”

DeRidder, Louisiana – From the Dutch word meaning “the knight”

Flushing (in Queens), NY – Named after Vlissingen in the Netherlands

Friesland, Wisconsin – After the Dutch province of Friesland

Harlem – Named after the city of Haarlem near Amsterdam

Harlingen, Texas – Named after Harlingen in the Netherlands

Holland – Towns in Michigan, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin

Zwolle, Louisiana – After Zwolle in the Netherlands

Kinderhook – A town in New York, closely meaning “children’s corner” in Dutch

Leyden, Massachusetts – After Leiden, the Netherlands

Middleburg, Ohio – After Middelburg in the Netherlands

New Dorp, NYC – Meaning “new town” in Dutch.

New Utrecht, NYC – As opposed to old Utrecht, a lovely city in the Netherlands

New York – Famously, it must be mentioned that, before New York was named such, it was called “New Amsterdam” by the Dutch

Rotterdam, NY – As with Amsterdam, the name speaks for itself

Staten Island, NY – From the Dutch for “states”, staten

Venlo, North Dakota – Named after the province in Limburg, the Netherlands

Yonkers, NY – Another New York borough which comes from the Dutch word jonkers

Zeeland, Michigan – Named for Zeeland in the Netherlands; also responsible for the naming of the southwest Pacific country New Zealand

Names

Here is a quick list of some very common Dutch names. These family names have become permanent features in the United States and can be found through the country.

De Groot, Hendrix (and derivatives, all Dutch), Herbert, Hermans, Houtman (wood or forest man), Jacobs, Jansen, Klein (a “little” Dutch name), Koeman (merchant), Kranz (meaning “wealth” in middle Dutch), Lucas, Middelburg, Prinsen, Roosevelt (rose field), Ryker, Schneider/Schneijder/Snyder, Schoonenburg, Schuyler, Schwarzenburg, Smit, Timmerman (Carpenter),Van der Beek (of the creek), Van der Berg, Vogels (birds), Wang (someone with rosy cheeks), Waterman, Willemsen, Wolters.

Police Badges from the USA

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