Ever get yourself seeking for the right word to display an emotion, but coming up short? That’s
not shocking. English, while useful and beautiful in its form, isn’t the be-all-end-all when it
comes to self-expression. For this reason, we love some Dutch words that have no English
equivalent – we can move on them when we have something to express but don’t have the proper
words to show it.
Living in the Netherlands can be comfortable for English speakers as everyone knows decent
English. Though, some Dutch words have no English equivalent, so if the locals try to interpret
them to you, the sense and feel of the words could go missing. It’s okay if you want to get by,
but the prize is high once you learn what they mean.
Why Do You want to Know About Untranslatable Dutch Words?
When a word is not translatable, it’s usually the fact that it carries a concept, an emotion, or a
cultural perspective that exists in the Netherlands but maybe nowhere else. It implies that once
you use those words, you can express yourself in a unique way.
These nine Dutch words won’t do the spell straight away, but once you read them, you will begin
to understand what I mean. If you can use them, you can feel more like an insider. The Dutch are
renowned for being understanding and helpful with foreigners, but once you use the language,
you will feel those features in a much broader sense.
If you are new to Dutch, the Dutch sounds and its very long words may be intimidating, and this
is one of the reasons why, whenever you need to translate Dutch, you’ll need a professional
translator. On the other hand, learning the language provides you that knowledge, faith, and
opportunity to do it on your own.
1. Gezellig: A word that lies in the soul of Dutch culture, gezellig has no immediate translation
in English but is used to define anything that invokes feelings of coziness, fun or good vibes.
Some might say ‘entertainment’ comes close, in the way of having a ‘jolly time,’ but hè gezellig
rolls off the speech more usually than ‘how entertaining.’
To draw an image, one might say, “Gezellig zat ik daar met een goed boek aan het vuurtje.” It
can also be used to say a fun event, a nice home, a beautiful sunset or a good chat with friends.
Just make sure you’re not taken out for being ‘un-gezellig,’ like texting while someone’s talking.
2. Uitwaaien: In the word “uitwaaien,” “uit” indicates “out” and “waaien” indicates “to blow.”
You go out for the breeze to blow away worrying ideas. It is a way to learn the meaning of
“uitwaaien” going for a walk to clear your head.
3. Lekker: This word can be about translated into delicious, except that it can be applied to
almost anything, from having a nice body to nice discussion. It has separated into several Dutch
phrases; ga lekker zitten means to make yourself easy, or lekker puh is what children might say
when they’re one up, as in ‘so there’ or 'serves you right.' A modern twist takes it more: Wearing
orange? Dat vind ik wel lekker (Like it).
4. Uitzieken: This word is another word that explains the common view found among the people
in the Netherlands. The doctors usually advocate “uitzieken” or to wait, take it simple and let the
body recover itself. You “sick it out” till you heal instead of quickly taking medicine.
5. Afbellen: The Dutch language is very friendly and usually make a plan, to have beer or dinner
with friends, way in advance. It doesn’t mean that an appointment can’t be ignored. When
someone, particularly a date, does it over the phone, “afbellen” is the word for it. It has the
definite difference to “afzeggen” which is to cancel in general.
6. IJsberen: As a noun, “ijsberen” implies “polar bears,” rooting from the singular noun
“ijsbeer” (polar bear). As a verb, “ijsberen” can’t be completely translated into a word in
English. It relates to the act of pacing up and down because you are either worried or annoyed.
The expression derived from the behavior of polar bears in slavery when they walk around in the
same circle or action again and again.
7. Gedogen: This word indicates to turn a blind eye to something. It indicates the patient attitude
of the nation when it comes to things like prostitution or drug laws.
8. Uitbuiken: “Uit” implies “out” while “buiken” implies bellies. Collectively, they make a
word meaning “to have bellies out, after a lot of drinking and eating.”
9. Beleg: If you are working in a Dutch corporation, you must have seen that sandwiches (i.e.,
“boterhammen”) are the common food for lunch. When they eat one piece of bread, they put
“beleg” on the bread, which could be ham and cheese to sweet chocolate sprinkles.
I hope you enjoy reading it and it will encourage you to learn more Dutch.