What kind of word is 'horeca'? 👨🍳, an American called Brouwer 🍺, the difference between a checkout and a cash desk 💰
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Can you spot the mistakes in the sentences below?
The thing I find strange, is that he never told me.
Our kitchen isn’t open yet, but you can order from the small menu.
I’m feeling fit, because I’ve been working out on my hometrainer.
You’ll get your warm applause, it’s just a question of time!
What Dutch expression is depicted here, and how would you translate it into English?
The Dutch word “horeca” is a syllabic abbreviation. Rather than taking the first letter of each word, the first few letters were taken: hotel, restaurant, cafe. There is no good Dutch term for these kinds of words, but linguist Marten van der Meulen calls them “stapelacroniemen”.
These kinds of abbreviations are common in German and (apparently) Russian, but both in English and in Dutch there aren’t that many of them. Here are a few Dutch ones:
bamastelsel - bachelor-master-stelsel
Conimex - Conserven Import-Export
doka - donkere kamer
vlizotrap - vliering en zoldertrap
vrijmibo - vrijdagmiddagborrel
And here are a few English ones:
Covid - Coronavirus disease
Fedex - federal express
froyo - frozen yoghurt
Oxfam - Oxford Committee for Famine Relief
scifi - science fiction
Dutch/English in the news
An American with Dutch ancestry spends time in the Netherlands
I found this personal blog post to be thoroughly charming due to its fierce honesty. American pastor Doug Brouwer comes from Grand Rapids in Michigan, a community with a high percentage of people from Dutch descent. He is now spending a year in The Hague, where he expected people to be interested in his Dutch heritage. Surprise: they weren’t. Rather than spending his time being disillusioned, he has instead chosen to observe and learn.
(When reading the article, keep in mind Brouwer wrote this with an American audience in mind rather than a Dutch one.)
The Dutch have a history of being at the forefront of payment innovations
When I moved from the Netherlands to Germany in 2018, I was thoroughly used to leaving the house with only my bank card, and no cash in my wallet. However, my local bakery here in Germany, and quite a few other little shops, only accepted cash. This lead to a few embarrassing situations with staff staring at me in disbelief. How could I have my handbag and wallet with me, but no cash?! Many Dutch people will recognise this from their holidays, I think.
I also remember being used to paying with iDeal. Whenever I was in the UK and trying to buy something online, I’d have to borrow someone’s credit card. They couldn’t believe I didn’t have one, and I couldn’t believe I needed one.
This piece from the European Payments Council shows that it was not just me being weird. The Netherlands is always a step ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to electronic payments, it seems.
(By the way, luckily for me, Covid has caused German shops and bakeries to install a card machine, meaning I have not had to change my ways. Card swiping for the win!)
I post a new translation on hoezegjeinhetEngels.nl every day. Here are a few recent ones that I am proud of.
In de put
Depressed people are not stuck in a well in English, but they can be down, and they can also be down somewhere: down in the dumps.
I also found out that the Dutch idiom “in de put” probably comes from the boardgame Ganzenbord! More here.
I have always been bothered by the dictionary translation of “normering”: standardisation. This translation doesn’t work in a bog-standard Dutch sentence like “we hebben voor deze toets de normering aangepast.”
This was easily the article that I spent the most time on in the past weeks. I ended up in quite a few educational assessment rabbit holes. My conclusion is that English speakers have a different mental model when it comes to grading, due to the fact that they do not grade with a number from 1 to 10.
Nevertheless, a good translation could be “we have adjusted the grade boundaries for this test.”
There is nothing harder to translate than a word for a concept that simply doesn’t exist in English-speaking countries.
Because there is no such position at English companies, it is better to use a made-up term rather than an unhelpful comparison to an existing English job. I like the term “confidential adviser”, which is used by e.g. Dutch and Belgian universities.
I had a realisation about English cash registers. When it is on a counter in a shop or restaurant, the place to pay is called a "cash desk”, but when you can’t leave a shop without going past it, it is called a “check-out” (or “checkout”).
Probably not 100% true, but I think it is helpful to know the difference. “Cash register”, which refers to the actual machine, always works as a translation, but can sound a little unnatural.
The thing I find strange is that he never told me.
There are two comma rules, one for Dutch, and one for English, that lead to opposite results.
The Dutch rule is always add a comma between two finite verbs (=persoonsvormen). This means the translation of the sentence above becomes
Wat ik raar vind, is dat hij het me nooit verteld heeft.
Note the comma. It has to be there, and its obligatory presence has been drilled into Dutch speakers at school.
English has a different word order: two finite verbs can never follow one another, meaning they have no use for the above rule.
Instead, English has a different rule that just happens to lead to the opposite result in this kind of sentence. This rule states: never separate a subject from its finite verb (persoonsvorm) with a comma. In the sentence above, “the thing I find strange” is the subject that belongs to the finite verb “is”, meaning these cannot be separated by a comma.
Because Dutch people have the Dutch sentence and rule in mind, they often put a comma between the subject and its finite verb. To many English speakers, including me, this is quite a glaring mistake, because just like the above rule was drilled into Dutch speakers’ brains at school, our comma rule was drilled into us. Unfortunate!
More information on commas here.
Our kitchen isn’t open yet, but you can order bar snacks.
You cannot translate the Dutch word “kleine kaart” with “small menu”. For an English speaker, a “small menu” is a menu that is literally small. Click here for some pictures that I took after being frustrated one too many times by the English versions of Dutch restaurant websites.
Perhaps you were in doubt about the kitchen being open in English. This is one of those phrases that is the same in Dutch and in English. Just like in Dutch, in English an “open kitchen” can be a kitchen in a house that is part of the living room, but it can also refer to the opening hours of a restaurant’s kitchen.
I’m feeling fit, because I’ve been working out on my exercise bike.
Hometrainer is one of those Dutch words that sounds English but isn’t. More info here.
You’ll get your warm round of applause, it’s just a question of time!
This sentence may have sounded too Dutch, but there was only one slight problem: we say “a round of applause” rather than just *an applause*. It is no problem for a round of applause to be warm in English, and “a question of time” is also correct English, despite some journalists thinking it is not.
Het beestje bij de naam noemen
…is the Dutch expression depicted in the picture. In English, you could say “to call a spade a spade” or “to tell it like it is”. More here.
And finally, I leave you with this Dutch law professor telling his international audience about some wonderfully paradoxical Dutch: “grote stukjes”
(I do not agree, by the way, that Dutch is close to impossible to learn as a second language. A subject for another day :-)
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