Going Dutch

Last Thursday night, I was watching the LA feed of the Dodgers-Phillies game in Los Angeles. As is the case with all Dodgers home games, Vin Scully was calling the game. In the sixth inning, the Philadelphia pitcher Severino Gonzales was struggling with his control and walked Andre Eithier. After the walk, the Phillies catcher jumps out of his crouch and jogs to the pitching mound to calm his pitcher. Vin Scully colorfully narrated the mound visit, saying, “and Cameron Rupp goes out there like a Dutch uncle to talk to him.”

What on earth is a dutch uncle?

Many, many years ago, the renown film scholar Thomas Elsaesser, who is an Englishman with a post at the University of Amsterdam, visited NYU. At a large dinner held in his honor, he told me that the English have at least one-hundred expressions that are derogatory to the Dutch. He offered this pearl of wisdom after I jokingly asked Elsaesser whether we were each “going dutch” as we were presented the check, although I believe NYU ultimately paid for the dinner.

The many derogatory expressions makes sense considering England and the Netherlands are neighboring countries, separated by the North Sea, who fought a series of wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries over trade routes and imperialism. It’s no secret that the people in one nation generally take a degrading view towards their neighbors. Consider the American expression Canadian tuxedo and the countless things people in the southwest say about Mexicans.

To the English, a dutch uncle is someone who advises by admonishment. It is, as the Wikipedia entry succinctly puts it, the opposite of someone who is “avuncular or uncle-like.”

This, of course, begs the question of the other English-language expressions that demean the Dutch. Sjoerd Mullender, a programmer at Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica in Amsterdam has compiled a list of English-language expressions featuring the Dutch. As he points out, most of these phrases are “unfavourable” to the Dutch.

Some of these I already knew, such as…

  • dutch angle: In cinematography, framing at an unconventional, titled angle. I figured it was shorthand for a “weird” angle.
  • dutch courage: Newly found courage after a few drinks.
  • going dutch: Making everyone pay for their own meal. It is related to the term “dutch treat,” which Mullender notes is “not a treat at all.”
  • dutch oven: Something used for cooking. But I was most familiar with the definition Mullender describes as “a prank where one farts under a blanket while holding a victim there.”

But, of course, there are many others that are truly eyebrow-raising, such as…

  • dutch act: suicide
  • dutch generosity: stinginess
  • dutch headache: a hangover
  • dutch widow: a prostitute
  • dutch concert: A great noise and uproar, like that made by a party of drunken Dutchmen, some singing, others quarreling, speechifying, etc.

Read the whole list on Mullender’s website and try not to think about the even worse expressions the English have for the Irish. And vice-versa.

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