30 English Words Borrowed from Dutch

By Mark Nichol

During much of the 1600s, the Netherlands was a world power, especially at sea, and this influence contributed to the English language in the form of borrowings from Dutch into English of various nautically and aquatically themed words. Here’s a list of many of these terms (a few of which were adopted from, or may derive from cognates in, other languages) and their definitions and their Dutch origins.

1. avast (“stop”): from hou vast, meaning “hold fast”

2. bow (“front of a ship”): from boeg (or from Old German or Old Norse)

3. brackish (“salty”): from brac (or a Low German cognate), meaning “salty”

4. buoy (“marker” or, as a verb, “mark with a buoy” or “keep afloat”): from buoy, ultimately from the Latin word boia, meaning “shackle”

5. caboose (“the last car on a freight train, used for the accommodation for the train’s crew”): from kabuis or kombuis, meaning “galley,” or “ship’s kitchen”

6. commodore (“senior captain” or “naval officer above a captain in rank”): probably from kommandeur, ultimately from the Old French word comandeor, meaning “commander”

7. cruiser (“warship larger than a destroyer but smaller than a battleship,” or “pleasure motorboat”): from kruisen (related to kruis, meaning “cross”), meaning “sail across or go through”

8. deck (“any of various floors of a ship”): from dek, meaning “covering”

9. dock (“mooring structure for vessels” or, as a verb “tie up at a dock”): from docke, meaning “pier”

10. dredge (“riverbed or seabed scoop” or, as a verb, “drag” or “scoop”): perhaps based on dregghe, meaning “dragnet”

11. freebooter (“pirate”): from vrijbuiter, meaning “robber”; the second half of the word is related to booty, also derived from Dutch

12. freight (“shipped goods” or, as a verb, “ship goods”): from a word variously spelled fraght, vracht, and vrecht and meaning “water transport”; the Dutch word is also the source of fraught, meaning “heavy” or “weighed down”

13. filibuster (“obstructive act” or, as a verb, “obstruct”): from vrijbuiter by way of the Spanish word filibuster (see freebooter above), which in turn comes from the French word flibustier

14. hoist (“lift” as a noun or a verb): from hijsen

15. jib (“spar”): from gijben, meaning “boom”

16. keel (“spine or structure projecting from a hull”): from kiel

17. keelhaul (“punish by dragging over the keel”): from kielhalen, meaning “keel hauling”

18. kill (“riverbed”): from kil

19. maelstrom (“whirlpool” or, by extension, “confused situation”): from maalstroom, meaning “grinding current” or “strong current” (the second element of the word is cognate with stream); possibly based on an Old Norse word

20. morass (“boggy or muddy ground” or, by extension, “complicated or confused situation”): from marasch, meaning “swamp,” partly based on the Old French word marais, meaning “marsh”

21. plug (“stopper” or, as a verb, “stop (a hole)”): from plugge, meaning “stopper”

22. school (“large group of fish,” unrelated to the term for an educational institution): from schole

23. scow (“small, wide sailboat” or “flat-bottomed boat”): from schouw

24. shoal (“large group of fish”; unrelated to the same word meaning “area of shallow water”): cognate with schole

25. skipper (“captain of a ship”): from schipper, meaning “someone who ships”

26. sloop (“sailboat,” either a small modern boat or a specific type of warship): from sloep, either ultimately from slupen, meaning “to glide,” or from the Old French term chalupe

27. smack (“small sailboat”): possibly from smak, meaning “sailboat,” perhaps from the sound made by flapping sails

28. smuggler (“illegal trader”): smokkelen or the Low German word smukkelen, meaning “transport (goods) illegally”)

29. stockfish (“cod or similar fish prepared by drying”): from stokvis, meaning “stick fish”

30. yacht (“small, light pirate-hunting naval vessel” or “pleasure motorboat or sailboat”): from jacht, meaning “hunt” and short for jachtschip

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9 Responses to “30 English Words Borrowed from Dutch”

  • venqax

    Aside from all the nautical terms, don’t forget cookie! From Dutch *koekje*, “little cake.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    I don’t know where you got this definition, but it isn’t quite right “punish by dragging over the keel”.
    Keelhaul = “to punish or execute someone by dragging UNDER the keel”. Dragging a man underneath the keel of a ship puts the holy terror of drowning into him. Then for some who is incorrigible, they keelhauled him several times, or very slowly, until he did drown or die of a coronary.
    Here’s another nautical term from Dutch seafarers: “scupper”. My connection to that one was that I had a very important interview with a big wheel at a company in northern Virginia, and he took me to a restaurant called “The Rusty Scupper”. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I guessed that it was an old metal boat falling part from all the rust. I.e. something like a “rusty schooner”, where a “scupper” might be one for digging up clams, oysters, and scallops from the bottom of Chesapeake Bay. I was not entirely right, but the context was right: nautical.

    You might look into the names of various kinds of boats, especially sailboats, like {schooner, yawl, catboat, …}.
    It is also true that there is a dialect of German that is spoken in the lowlands around the Netherlands and in the region between Holland and Denmark. It is called “Plattdeutsch” or “Low German”, and it makes a gradual transition towards Dutch as you get closer and closer. To confuse things a little more, there is another language that is native to that part of Europe that is called “Frisian” from the Frisian Islands. Of course, Frisian, Dutch, and Plattdeutsch are all related to Anglo-Saxon-Jute. If you look for a while at some simple passages in Frisian, such as folk tales that date back 1100 years, it starts to make some sense to an English speaker.
    Frisian is very much a minority language (like Welsh is), but there are newspapers and magazines in Frisian, and Frisian libraries, and maybe even some Frisian radio stations.
    I have read that there is ONE TV STATION in Wales that broadcasts in Welsh all the time, and a collection of radio stations.
    In various parts of the U.S.A., you can find radio and TV stations that broadcast in French, Cajun French, Creole, Polish (such as around Chicago), German, Yiddish, and Navajo (in northeastern Arizona).
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Well you have these: {scow, sloop, smack}, but the variety of vocabulary for ships and boats is amazing, including words that you would think that nobody would need.
    Also, the very word “boat” probably comes from Dutch, Plattdeutsch, and Danish, and we got it via the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.
    “Ship” is also a Germanic word, and in modern German, the word is “das Schiff”, indicating that it is a neuter object.
    In Latin and its daughters, the words for “ship” and “sailor” come from the 1st declension, and that one has almost all feminine words, such as “nauta” the singular, and its plural, “nautae”.
    It is just like “alumna” and “alumnae”, both feminine words, but “alumnus” comes from a different declension, and it is masculine, of course.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Ships, boats, and spacecraft are called “she” and “her” because the very words are feminine in Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, etc. The ASSOCIATED PRESS has gotten foolishly dogmatic about this and insists that watercraft and spacecraft are “it”.
    A sailor can be directly quoted in an article calling a craft like the USS “Enterprise”, “she” and “her”, in a long paragraph, but then the AP writers instantly switch to “it”. I disagree.
    The old saying is “When in Rome do as the Romans do.” When discussing nautical subjects, speak Latin like a sailor!

    By the way, I have been told that in Russian, ships and boats are all masculine.
    The Germans are practical about it because words like these are neuter {Schiff, Auto, Radio, Racket (rocket), Fleugzeug (airplane), Radar, Wienerschnitzel, Pferd (horse), Television (Fernseher)} are all neuter, and “der Stier” = “bull” is masculine because all bulls are males. “Das Geld” = “money” is neuter, too.

  • Dale A. Wood

    It might be besides the point, but words borrowed from the Dutch in include geographical names like Amsterdam, New York, and in that region were New Holland and New Amsterdam before they became New York. There are Harlem and Kinderhook** in New York, too. Also, there are things of scientific importance like the Leiden jar and the Lorentz transformation.
    Also, back before the 1840s, Belgium and Luxembourg were part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and we have places in North America named Antwerp, Brussels, and Ghent.
    Luxembourg dropped out of The Netherlands in 1890 because Wilhelmina was becoming the Queen, and the people around Luxembourg City could not stand the idea of having a female monarch. Since then the odd thing is that Luxembourg has had a Grand Duchess more often than it has had a Grand Duke.

    The Netherlands had three queens in a row, and now the new King William for a change. Oddly, between the King and his younger brother, they have SIX daughters and no sons, so there will be another queen, and a lot of princesses, duchesses, countesses, baronesses, and dames.
    Apparently, Queen Beatrix had two sons and no daughters.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Kinderhook would be a little-know place, except that President Martin van Buren was born and raised in Kinderhook, New York, a Dutch village on the Hudson River. (By Dutch, I mean that everyone there spoke Dutch!) Van Buren’s nickname was “Old Kinderhook”, and when he had read some official papers, he often marked them “O.K.”, just writing down the initials of his nickname. So that is where “O.K.” came from, and now there is little doubt about that.

  • Roberta B.

    Speak my mind?! The blog hog is back……and has been for some time. Sorry, I’ve finally had enough.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Roberta, if you don’t want to learn anything new, then go around with you ears plugged up – but don’t complain about it.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Three more word about ships to go along with scow, sloop, smack, schooner, and scupper: scull, sculling, and schnorkel (snorkel).
    The Dutch Navy was the first one to have snorkels on its submarines, and then that idea was lifted by the German Kriegsmarine.

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