As part of my recurring series of funny Dutch sayings and phrases, I’m sharing my 10 favourite Dutch sayings featuring clothing here with you today!
Like in any other language, there are so many quirky Dutch sayings and phrases that make no sense at all. And when you translate them into English, they often sound even more absurd. I previously shared My 10 Favourite Dutch Sayings Featuring Animals and My 10 Favourite Dutch Sayings Featuring Food on the blog. Today we’ll have a look at the strange ways we incorporate clothing items in our everyday Dutch phrases and sayings.
10 Funny Dutch sayings and phrases about clothing!
1. Hero on socks
Held op sokken.
Meaning: Someone who pretends to be courageous, but is actually a scaredy-pants.
Origins: As most phrases and sayings, ‘hero on socks’ originated a few centuries ago, when footwear wasn’t practical nor easy to put on in a hurry. So, when you were scared and wanted to make a run for it, you wouldn’t even consider trying to put on your shoes. Socks would just have to do!
2. You could sense that on your clogs
Dat kon je op je klompen aanvoelen.
Meaning: That was to be expected.
Origins: Made from wood, you couldn’t possibly feel something under or on your clogs. Thus, saying you could sense something on your clogs, you mean something was so obvious and was just bound to happen.
3. Now comes the monkey out of the sleeve
Nu komt de aap uit de mouw.
I mentioned this Dutch proverb in my list of funny Dutch sayings about animals already. However, since it’s one of the most hilarious sayings we have in Dutch, I really had to add it here as well!
Meaning: Now the truth reveals itself.
Origins: Travelling performers in the past would surprise their audience by literally pulling a monkey out of their sleeve.
4. To scare oneself a little hat
Zich een hoedje schrikken
Meaning: To get scared out of your wits.
Origins: The origins of this Dutch saying aren’t entirely clear. Some argue that hoedje (little hat) bears a meaning similar to ‘extremely’ or ‘a lot’. But others argue that it’s just a euphemism for ‘to get scared to death’. And other people even believe that it’s more like a cartoon-like scare when one’s hat would literally fly in the air after feeling a jolt of fear.
5. To know of mittens
Van wanten weten.
Meaning: To get to business in a confident way.
Origins: Again, the origins of this Dutch saying aren’t all too clear. It might derive from the joke ‘like mittens in a panty store’, which obviously wouldn’t be selling such items. However, a more plausible explanation would be that the word wanten doesn’t refer to ‘mittens’ but to ropes on a boat.
The expression zijn want wel weten, ‘to know his sailing ropes’, would be used for sailors who were experienced and skilful. This explanation makes far more sense, but doesn’t sound as funny as the mitten version.
6. With lead in the shoes
Met lood in de schoenen.
Meaning: To do something you dread.
Origins: I couldn’t find the exact origins for this saying,it isn’t difficult to imagine what it feels like to walk in lead-filled shoes. The sheer weight would make it very difficult to move. You’d probably only be able to make tiny baby steps, dragging your feet as you go along. When you’re off to do something you really dread, you wouldn’t be eager to rush either. Instead, you’d also be walking as if you had lead in your shoes.
After publishing this post, a friend shared a very plausible theory for the origins of this saying which I wanted to share with you. He believes that the term refers to the early diving suits. Air was pumped into the suit manually from the on-board air supply. To prevent the diver from floating back to the surface, the shoes were loaded by possible attaching lead to the bottom. Because diving was a dangerous and even possibly a lethal profession, chances were, divers would go to work ‘with lead in their shoes’ and heart.
7. That doesn’t go sit in your cold clothes
Dat gaat je niet in de koude kleren zitten.
Meaning: Being shaken up by something.
Origins: This saying dates back to at least the 16th century already. The concept of ‘cold clothes’ here refers to outerwear and contrasts the warm body underneath it. When something were to literally go through the outerwear, it would reach the skin, or heart even. In a literal sense therefore, it means that the effect of something goes deeper than the surface and that someone is touched by it emotionally, often as a kind of shock.
8. That is crying with the cap on
Dat is huilen met de pet op.
Meaning: That is really bad / a real disappointment.
Origins: The original proverb seems to have been some variant of ‘That is crying whilst holding the lamp’. Does that make more sense to you? Yeah, not to me either. But thankfully there’s more information on this online.
It’s believed to date back to the time before smartphones with built-in torches and people carried oil lamps instead. The person holding the oil lamp to ensure the last remnants of oil would be burnt as well, couldn’t do anything else at the same time. In this case that ‘anything else’ is crying. I guess this is a bit difficult to imagine in our current times when we do nothing but multi-tasking.
9. To stick a feather in someone’s trousers.
Iemand een veer in de broek steken.
Meaning: To compliment someone.
Origins: Not sure how comfortable it would be to walk around with a feather stuck in your trousers. But I bet it would be way more comfortable than having a feather stuck in your ass, as the other well-known variation of the proverb goes! The less messy variation is to receive a feather in your hat.
No matter the exact location where you put the feather, the general idea is to compliment someone. The idea behind this is that feathers are pretty, depending on the bird of course, and that they make for a great reward.
10. There squeezes the shoe
Daar wringt de schoen.
Meaning: There lies the rub.
Origins: This phrase is really similar to ‘there lies the rub’, made famous by Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Thinking about it, this Dutch saying actually feels more like a metaphor than a proverb to me. Its literal meaning is as follows: once you’ve pinpointed exactly which part of the foot is being painfully rubbed by the shoe, you can solve the problem.
Do you know any funny sayings about clothing in your own language? Share them in a comment below!
And if you want to read more hilarious Dutch sayings or find out how subtle differences between Dutch and English do my head in a bit, then check out these following articles.
Thanks, Zarina xx
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