Geographic idiom chains

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From James Kirchner, in response to "The directed graph of stereotypical incomprehensibility", 1/15/2009 (as featured on 3/25/2015 in the Washington Post):

I found years ago that in Stuttgart, Germany, people said, "Es ist mir ein böhmisches Dorf," meaning, "It's a Czech village to me," (literally a Bohemian village). Then I went to work in the Czech Republic, where, as you accurately noted, they say, "Je mi španělská vesnice," i.e., "It's a Spanish village to me." (The Czechs also say, "It's colder than a German girl outside.")

The thing that's been fascinating me the last few years is who people speaking various languages say "goes Dutch". This was triggered by an idiom lesson I was teaching to a very charming, very popular young Ford engineer stationed near Detroit from Mexico City. She ran across the idiom "go Dutch" on the sheet, her eyes popped out, and she asked me what the tradition was here. I told her that usually the man pays for everything on a date. This was a sudden revelation for her. She had been insulting her American suitors by insisting on paying for everything herself, because in Mexico "se paga a la gringa." So the Mexicans say people in the US do that, and people in the US say the Dutch do it. Now I wonder who does it.

Other (mostly small) geo-idiom networks:

In Denmark, "Danish Pastries" are called "Vienna Bread" (wienerbrød).

Taking French leave is "leave of absence without permission or without announcing one's departure, including leaving a party without bidding farewell to the host". The corresponding term in French is filer à l'anglaise. The Wikipedia article indicates that other European languages/cultures divide up according to whether they attribute this behavior to the English (Czech, Italian, Polish, Russian, Walloon, and Hungarian) or to the French (German, Portuguese, Spanish).

Wikipedia indicates that syphilis was called the "French disease" in Italy, Poland, and Germany; the "Italian disease" in France; the "Spanish disease" in the Netherlands; the "Polish disease" in Russia; the "Christian disease" in Turkey; and the "British disease" in Tahiti.



  1. Dick Margulis said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 4:45 pm

    Re: In Denmark, "Danish Pastries" are called "Vienna Bread" (wienerbrød).

    Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Americans call all viennoiserie Danish pastry, regardless of style or quality. Wikipedia says it was "invented in Denmark and has since become a Danish specialty," but it's not obvious that the Danish did more than copy what the Viennese were doing.

  2. Thorin said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 5:07 pm

    "I told her that usually the man pays for everything on a date."

    I always thought that "going Dutch" meant that the parties pay for their own expenses on a date, or split the check evenly.

  3. Thorin said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

    Turns out I misread the quote in the article! Sorry for the extra comment.

  4. Howard Oakley said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 5:34 pm

    In the UK, condoms were/are known as 'French letters', and in France as 'les capotes anglaises'. There are other opportunities unmissed for the French and English to trade insults…

  5. Brett said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

    The expression "going Dutch" derives from an ethnic slur, "Dutch" being short for "Dutch treat." Since you pay for yourself, a Dutch "treat" isn't really a treat at all. Since there hasn't been a lot of anti-Dutch sentiment in English-speaking culture for hundreds of years, the slur has been pretty much bleached out.

  6. Chris C. said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 5:59 pm

    What do they call frankfurters in Frankfurt? Or wieners in Vienna? (The mystery-meat or dubiously-meat sausages, I mean.)

    In Wales I presume one doesn't welsh on a bet, but what do you say a dishonest gambler does instead?

    Do they even have English muffins in England?

    Do the French actually French kiss as a matter of national habit?

  7. Piyush said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 6:01 pm

    Somewhat similar is the case of phrases with a sense similar to the English phrase "all Greek". This page gives a list of equivalent expressions in other languages. Apparently Greek speakers compare incomprehensible things with Arabic, Arabic speakers think similarly of Hindi, Hindi speakers say incomprehensible speech sounds like Persian, while Persians find it rather similar to Greek.

  8. Adrian Morgan said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

    Let's just pause for a moment in wonderment at the revelation that in 2015, there still exist such things as American men who feel insulted by a woman paying for things…

  9. George Amis said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 6:18 pm

    I've heard it said that the only nonpejorative use of Dutch in English expressions is Dutch door. (Dutch oven perhaps comes close, but a Dutch oven isn't really an oven at all.)

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 6:48 pm

    The record producer Steve Albini circa 1991, describing an interaction with a writer for a Dutch music magazine:

    He asked me why Americans have such a low opinion of the Dutch. I told him that Americans seldom even thought of the Dutch, except for their elm disease, which we thought highly of. He gave as evidence the expressions “being in Dutch,” “Dutch courage,” and worst of all, “Dutch treat— why that’s no treat of all!” I told him that they were all puns.

  11. Brett said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 6:58 pm

    @George Amis: I was never sure whether "Dutch oven" was a pejorative along the lines of "Dutch treat" (which isn't really a treat) and "Dutch courage" (which isn't really courage), or whether it was an actual attempt at a cultural reference. Are there other (originally) pejorative "Dutch" terms that I'm forgetting, and, if so, do they fit this same template?

  12. Jim Ancona said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 7:09 pm

    Any Netherlanders feeling offended might be comforted to know that that at least one use in AmE, "Pennsylvania Dutch," actually refers to Germans (presumably because of confusion between "Dutch" and "Deutsch"). Maybe the others are a bad rap too!

  13. Kirk Cowell said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 7:23 pm

    "Double Dutch" isn't pejorative, is it?

  14. Anselm Lingnau said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 7:26 pm

    At least here in Germany, frankfurters and wieners (the sausages) are not identical. The main difference is that Frankfurt-style sausages are made exclusively from pork while Viennese-style sausages may also include beef. (The issue is confused further by the fact that wieners were invented by a sausage maker in Vienna, Johann Georg Lahner, who originally learned his trade in Frankfurt. At the time – early 19th century – butchers in Germany could be either cow butchers or pig butchers but not both, while in Austria the rules weren't as strict. Frankfurt-style sausages go back to the 13th century AD.)
    Today, a sausage must be produced in the Frankfurt area if it is to be sold as a “Frankfurter Würstchen”; if it is made elsewhere it is “Frankfurter Art” (Frankfurt style).

  15. Tim said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

    It was pleasing, long ago, having driven on holiday through Germany and Austria, to arrive in Vienna and find in the usual prominent place on a restaurant menu, just "Schnitzel".

  16. Ray Girvan said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

    @Brett: I was never sure whether "Dutch oven" was a pejorative

    It's not in the cookware sense, but at least in UK slang, it's also the name for the (generally male) prank of holding the bedclothes over one's partner's head, then farting so that they're trapped in the gas.

  17. Dan Lufkin said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 8:52 pm

    I wonder whether "Canadian doubles" in tennis is pejorative or not.

    Then there's the definitely pejorative "Chinese fire drill."

    "Dixie dinner" (an R.C. and a Moon Pie) is also pejorative.

    I used to have to wait for a bus right in front of a bakery in Copenhagen. The ladies at the counter teased me by making me ask for my regular snack by its real Danish name. There's one called "the baker's sore eye." I was told that there were over 150 named Danish pastries. That was 60 years ago so God knows what the count is now.

    A Dutch treat is called "going snacks" in the Jack Aubrey series by Patrick O'Brian.

  18. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 8:55 pm

    Wikipedia informs me that the alto oboe is called "English horn" or its local equivalent (cor anglais, corno inglese) by pretty much everyone except the English, who usually call it just "cor". Apparently it was invented not in England but in Germany, where it was originally called the angelic horn (engellisches Horn). "English horn" is a German pun.

  19. Bobbie said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 9:01 pm

    In the US I had heard "Dumb Polack" jokes. When I lived in Warsaw in 1976, the equivalent were "Dumb Ukrainian" jokes, but never "dumb Russian" jokes!

  20. Hacky Dacky said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 10:13 pm

    I know some German, so I was surprised to see the equivalence made between "Greek" (i.e. incomprehensible to English speakers) and "Spanish" (i.e. incomprehensible to German speakers.) To my knowledge, the German translation of "that's Greek to me" would be "Ich verstehe Bahnhof" – that is, "I understand 'railroad station' ", (the latter supposedly derived –in jest– from foreign workers whose only word of German is "Bahnhof".)

    So I asked a native German speaker about the validity of that "Greek" = "Spanish" equivalence. Here's his response:

    I think they are alluding to the phrase "Das kommt mir Spanisch vor". I would say this is not equivalent to "This is all Greek to me". In my thinking, the latter implies "I don't understand this at all", indicating a lack of comprehension. The former is more along the lines of "something doesn't add up here", "something is fishy".

  21. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 11:06 pm

    Two gold mines:
    (1) A Dictionary of International Slurs (Ethnophaulisms) by A[braham]. A. Roback (1944), reprinted 1979; 394 pp.
    (2) Many articles and glossaries in the 13 volumes of Maledicta.

  22. D.O. said,

    March 27, 2015 @ 11:12 pm

    Syphilis is "French disease" in Russia now, though historically (think Ivan the Terrible) it was Polish and German as well.

  23. Michael Briggs said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 12:01 am

    The gringo entry in the Nuevo diccionario francés-español (New French–Spanish Dictionary, 1817), by Antonio de Capmany, records:
    . . . hablar en griego, en guirigay, en gringo.[

  24. Michael Briggs said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 12:12 am

    A guy is at a bar and he says to the man next to him, "Do you want to hear a hilarious Iowa joke?" The man turns to him and, trying to intimidate him, says "I went to the University of Iowa and so did my 2 friends here and we are all over 6'-4" and 300lbs, so do you still want to tell the joke?" He responds, "No, I don't want to have to explain it 3 times."

  25. raempftl said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 1:40 am

    @Hacky Dacky

    Wikipedia says the expression "Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof" is from Berlin in the 1920s and even back then people/ dictionnairies were not sure about its origin.

  26. Jon said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 2:13 am

    @ George Amis
    "I've heard it said that the only nonpejorative use of Dutch in English expressions is Dutch door."
    What about Dutch barn? Wikipedia tells me that this means different types of barn in different countries, and that in the UK it means a barn with a roof and no sides. I haven't heard that usage, what it means to me is a style of roof on a house or shed. The pitch of roof is shallow near the ridge, then there is a break and a steeper angle up to the walls. A search for Dutch barn roof on UK sites shows that this is the general usage.

  27. michael farris said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 2:34 am

    A few from Polish

    Czech movie (czeski film) a situation where no one knows what's going on

    Czech mistake (czeski błąd) a typo.

    To pretend to be Greek (udawać Greka) to play dumb.

  28. michael farris said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 2:35 am

    I forgot the German expression Polnische Wirtschaft (Polish economy) refers to something poorly planned and/or run. It seems more common in Polish than German now (if very quick googling can be trusted).

  29. Vilinthril said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 2:43 am

    A few notes:

    * I agree with Hacky Dacky, “es kommt mir Spanisch vor” rather means “that smells fishy” than “I don't understand”.
    * Howard Oakley: Condoms are (sometimes, it's probably rather archaic nowadays) also called “Parisians” (Pariser) in German.
    * Gregory Kusnick: “Englisches Horn” is not a pun in German – “englisch” is an archaiv adjective derived from “Engel” (angel), as also seen in “Englischer Gruß” (which is not the English greeting, but the angelic greeting by Gabriel of Mary).
    * Chris C./Anselm Lingnau: Here in Austria, we call everything that you would call Frankfurter or Wiener just Frankfurter. Never heard that there's supposed to be a difference.
    * Regarding schnitzel: The Italians also lay claim to having invented the dish, and they call it “cotoletta alla milanese” (Milanese(-style) cutlet). Make of that what you will. ;)

  30. reader_not_acedeme said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 4:08 am

    a few more from farther south in eastern europe. hungarian stuff:

    csehül áll (be in a czech situation): things are not going well for someone, not doing good

    ez nekem kínai (that's chinese to me): i don't get it. // hungarian will not be unique in this use of chinese as the exotic/unintelligible par excellence.

    cigányútra ment (went the gipsy way): said when food gets stuck in your throat and you get a coughing fit

    törököt fogtam, de nem ereszt (i caught a turk but he won't let me loose): i got what i wanted but now i'm disappointed and/or can't get rid of it. // i wouldn't be surprised if this one dated back to the ottoman occupation.

    annyian vannak, mint az oroszok (there are as many of them as there are russians): there's a lot of them.

    franciakór (french disease): syphilis

    svédasztal (swedish table): smorgasbord

    it's interesting to see how most of these slurs now come through as completely harmless, with the notable exception of going the gipsy way, which definitely has racist overtones. there's one involving jews that i have omitted that is so thoroughly offensive and unacceptable that it doesn't bear mentioning even in this context. i remember hearing it in my childhood in the 80s, but gracefully never again in my adult life.

  31. GH said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 6:46 am

    As for "French leave" in the sense of slipping out of a party, this article discusses a few other variations, including "Irish goodbye," "Dutch leave," "French exit," and a Jewish joke that "WASPs leave and don’t say goodbye, Jews say goodbye and don’t leave."

  32. Mark S said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 6:57 am

    "Double Dutch" has two, rather different, meanings. The most common in the UK is "incomprehensible language", and thus is pejorative. However, in the US, the meaning of a jump rope game with two ropes or jumpers seems more common, and is presumably not pejorative. See

  33. Lugubert said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 7:05 am

    What's incomprehensible in Sweden will often be referred to as being in Greek. One explanation is that Latin teachers (when we still had some), on encountering a Greek quote in their texts, told the pupils (IIRC) "Graeca sunt, non leguntur" (That's Greek, not to be read).

  34. Victor Mair said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 7:09 am

    "In Taiwan, 火星語 (Martian) is the preferred term for both incomprehensible language (It's Martian to me!) and internet slang or abbreviations that older generations don't understand."

  35. Veronica said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 7:10 am

    @Dan Lufkin: Thank you for mentioning the usage of "go snacks" (to mean going Dutch) in the Jack Aubrey series, which cleared up something I've been mildly confused about for years.

    In 1788, William Cowper published a satirical antislavery poem titled "Pity for Poor Africans," ("I pity them greatly, but I must be mum / For how could we do without sugar and rum?") which includes the stanza:

    If foreigners likewise would give up the trade,
    Much more in behalf of your wish might be said;
    But while they get riches by purchasing blacks,
    Pray tell me why we may not also go snacks?

    Since earlier stanzas refer to sugar and tea, I always thought this was just an awkward reference to snack foods. I am really delighted to have this stanza suddenly make sense.

  36. Hans said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 7:43 am

    svédasztal (swedish table): smorgasbord
    It's the same in Russian (шведский стол)
    In German hinter Schwedischen Gardinen "behind Swedish curtains" means "in jail, behind bars".

  37. Mark S said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 7:56 am

    "It was Greek to me", expressing incomprehension, was used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2, written in 1599.

  38. Alan Gunn said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 8:10 am

    And then there's the town of French Lick, Indiana. That name doesn't mean what you're thinking.

  39. leoboiko said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 9:26 am

    Nothing beats turkeys, who are called "Turkey" in English, "Peru" in Portuguese, "India" in Polish, "Kalkúnn" (<Calicut) in Icelandic, "French chicken" in Scottish Gaelic, "Roman chicken" in Arabic, "Dutch chicken" in Malaysia, and so on… Apparently nobody in the whole wide world knows where the damn things come from. (They're actually from Mexico. Notice that no language call them Mexicoes.)

    Appropriately, the Japanese name is "seven-faced bird".

  40. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 10:11 am

    Chris C: We have muffins, which I think resemble the 'English muffin' more than the American muffin, but are not exactly the same. (But nowadays we have American muffins as well.)

  41. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 10:15 am

    Gregory Kusnick: I would say it is called the cor anglais in England as well. (The word is recognised as French, but forms part of regular English usage.) I had also always heard that the etymology was from cor anglé, 'angled horn'.

  42. Rodger C said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 10:42 am

    törököt fogtam, de nem ereszt (i caught a turk but he won't let me loose)

    In older English the expression "I caught a Tartar" has this meaning.

  43. Rachel Cotterill said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

    I'm British; we once went out for dinner in Amsterdam with some friends from the Netherlands who (naturally, being from the Netherlands) speak excellent English. As we sat down to order, one of our friends said, "We'll each pay our own, yes? That's how we do things. There is a reason you call it 'going Dutch'".

  44. Christian Weisgerber said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 4:13 pm

    It's funny when these things start looping back. English has "French kissing", colloquially also "to french". Quebec French has borrowed this as "frencher". And a French manicure is… "une french (manucure)" in France.

  45. Cuconnacht said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 4:36 pm

    The Arabic dik rumi = turkey isn't quite Roman fowl. The Byzantine empire called itself Rome, and the the Turks and the Arabs adopted the name for that part of the world. So it's actually pretty close to the English.

    What are hamburgers called in Hamburg?

  46. maidhc said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 7:52 pm

    I'm reminded of Bob and Doug Mackenzie, who developed a theory based on the observation that Americans call "back bacon" "Canadian bacon". According to the theory, in Switzerland Swiss cheese would be "back cheese", in England English muffins would be "back muffins", etc.

    English muffins as found in the US are a bit like crumpets, although there are differences. But were crumpets always the way they are now?

    There's "Dutch uncle". This article has more "Dutch" examples, most not much used any more.

    Aside from the rope-skipping usage, I know "double Dutch" as a type of secret language. See this example, but there are other definitions of it.

    I believe in one of Stan Hugill's books about the old sailing ship days he says that the term Dutchman was applied to anyone who said "ja" for yes. However someone from the Netherlands was called a "Holland Dutchman".

  47. Joe Fineman said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 7:58 pm

    "A Mexican breakfast" = a cigarette & a cup of coffee (heard in southern California, 1950s). Presumably pejorative.

  48. Joyce Melton said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 10:25 pm

    According to the Thomas's website, American "English muffins" were based on an immigrant family recipe for crumpets but baked differently because Americans came to enjoy splitting them.

    A cigarette and a cup of coffee is a "cowboy" breakfast where I grew up, SoCal desert where there were actual cowboys around. A "cowboy" lunch was a cigarette and a six-pak. A "cowboy" dinner date was a cigarette and sex and another cigarette.

    Skipping rope with two ropes is double Dutch because skipping rope with one rope and going faster and faster until you miss is "in Dutch."

    "Double Dutch" was also a "secret language" like "pig latin" that involved doubling the middle sound or sticking a b into the middle of a word, or both. The rules were too complex for most boys to be willing to learn it and girls took delight in speaking it in front of boys.

    One no one mentioned is "Indian giver" which was a pejorative based on misunderstood rules of property in some Native American tribes. The Indians may very well have had a mirror pejorative of "English keeper".

  49. Xmun said,

    March 28, 2015 @ 10:49 pm

    My son and daughter-in-law, who are living in Berlin, tell me that the German equivalent of "It's all Greek to me" is "Das sind mir spanische Dörfer" (translatable word for word as "That are to me Spanish villages").

  50. Vanya said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 4:34 am

    @Michael Farris – "Czech movie (czeski film) a situation where no one knows what's going on".

    Poles claim that this expression emerged in the 1960s during the height of Czech avant-garde experimentation. Probably a reaction to the film "Daisies".

    Germans have the expression "Dann ist Polen offen", which means a situation is getting out of control, e.g "wenn der Gründer des Unternehmens stirbt, dann ist Polen offen." (when the founder of the Company dies, it's going to be chaos)".

  51. Vanya said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 4:39 am

    "It was pleasing, long ago, having driven on holiday through Germany and Austria, to arrive in Vienna and find in the usual prominent place on a restaurant menu, just "Schnitzel"."

    That would be very odd, since there are many styles of Schnitzel in Austria. A breaded veal cutlet pounded flat is generally called a "Wiener Schnitzel", even in Vienna.

  52. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 4:49 am

    @ Vanya: It's usually said that the expression comes from the title of the film Nikdo nic neví, 'no one knows nothing' (double negation intended ;)

    Other interesting tidbits: törököt fogtam,… and I caught a Tartar above (I didn't know that one, thanks Roger C!) make me think of Polish złapał Kozak Tatarzyna, a Tatarzyn za łeb trzyma, literally "the Cossack has caught the Tartar but the Tartar is holding him by the head". But the sense here is of a "catch 22" situation.

    Also, annyian vannak, mint az oroszok (there are as many of them as there are russians): there's a lot of them corresponds loosely to Chińczycy przykryją nas czapkami lit. 'the Chinese will cover us with their hats'. And cigányútra ment (went the gipsy way): said when food gets stuck in your throat and you get a coughing fit corresponds to wpadło w niemiecką dziurkę lit. 'it has gone down the German hole'.

  53. AB said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 9:46 am

    In some Spanish-speaking countries I believe playing the fool is "hacerse el sueco" – playing the Swede. No idea why.

  54. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

    "I told him that Americans seldom even thought of the Dutch, except for their elm disease, which we thought highly of." The record producer Steve Albini, describing a conversation with a Dutch music journalist concerned about the anti-Dutch bigotry historically embedded in fixed phrases like those referenced above.

  55. cameron said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

    I've heard a theory that the French expression parler comme une vache espagnole was originally un Basque espagnol. I'm not inclined to believe that. It sounds like an attempt to rationalize why the idiom involves a cow.

  56. richard miller said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 3:18 pm

    When I was growing up (southern Wisconsin), Double Dutch was another name we used for the language game also called "Opish," in which the speaker inserts the syllable "op" after each consonant in a word, lopikop thopisop ("like this," spelling it as it sounds to me).

    And although Dutch Ovens are typically used in the US to make soups and stews, in Indonesia they are about the only kind of oven available, since homes have stoves of one type or another, but no "real" oven. You can make quite tasty cookies, buns, even small cakes on the top of the stove with a Dutch Oven.

  57. a George said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 6:12 pm

    In the famous Flanders and Swann recording of ‘At the Drop of a Hat’ from 1957, they have a song called ‘Song of Reproduction’. In it they say, “With my tone control, at a single touch, I can make Caruso sound like Hutch’, which makes perfect sense to somebody aware of the singer Leslie Hutchinson. But in ‘The Songs of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann’*) (and I believe, also in the stereo version recorded during their very last performance), they say, ‘….. Bel Canto sounds like Double Dutch’, which is not nearly as relevant, but which possibly is in a way more generally comprehensible.

    *) London: Elm Tree Books 1986

  58. Ralph Hickok said,

    March 29, 2015 @ 8:34 pm

    I've always thought that "French leave" referred to desertion (from military service).

  59. Pat Barrett said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 12:15 am

    Thanks for the new Dutch references. I knew Dutch rub (it hurts), Dutch uncle (mean), Dutch oven (not an oven), Dutch door (half a door), Dutch treat (you pay your own way), Dutch courage, and so on, most from my childhood. I have used this ethnic term used in mostly negative contexts to demonstrate that the use of an ethnic term negatively does not automatically color the attitudes toward that ethnic group. Not many Americans harbor negative feelings toward the Dutch.

  60. Christiane said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 3:19 am

    German native speaker here, and as far as I'm aware, "Das sind mir böhmische Dörfer" (These are Bohemian villages to me) and "Das kommt mir spanisch vor" (This looks/sounds Spanish to me) have pretty much the same meaning – nothing dodgy or fishy, just "I find that incomprehensible/ I don't know anything about that".
    "Spanische Dörfer" is a mix-up of the two, not a conventional phrase.

    Hamburgers are called Hamburgers in Hamburg, too – if you mean the patty-in-a-bun thing you get at fast food restaurants. Just the patty itself would be "Frikadelle", as in most of Germany (except for Bavaria, where it's a "Fleischpflanzerl"). So there's no joke there.
    But the pastry known as "Berliner" in Western Germany are called "Pfannkuchen" (meaning "pancakes", but they're actually more like sweet buns with a jam filling) in Eastern Germany, including Berlin. The original name apparently was "Berliner Pfannkuchen", so that sort of makes sense.

    And let's not forget that "French fries" are originally Belgian…

  61. Lars said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 5:58 am

    @ Dan Lufkin: The pastry in question is indeed called 'the baker's infected eye,' but its name is Spandauer. (The latter comes in crème pâtissière and jam varieties, only the former gets the conjunctivitis slur).

    @Dick Margulis: According to tradition, when Danish bakers copied the Viennese recipe they added extra butter and eggs. And checking Plunderteig on German WiPe, it looks like 'Kopenhagener' pastry dough needs to rolled out with twice as much shortening as the native kind.

  62. richardelguru said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 6:07 am

    "In the UK, condoms were/are known as 'French letters', and in France as 'les capotes anglaises'. There are other opportunities unmissed for the French and English to trade insults…

    Back in school (in the early 60s in the UK) we had a joke
    Why do les flics have Roman numerals on their helmets?
    They'd look bloody silly with French Letters there…

  63. Ben Hemmens said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 7:01 am

    I notice that the Esperato equivalent of "That's Greek to me" is:
    Tio estas Volapukaĵo.

    I wonder what the equivalent expression in Volapük is.

  64. Anselm Lingnau said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 7:34 am

    @Christiane: I'm also a German native speaker, and to me there is a distinct difference between “das sind für mich böhmische Dörfer” (“I don't understand/know this at all”) and “das kommt mir spanisch vor” (“there's something weird about this”). I've never heard “spanische Dörfer”.

    In the area where I live (Frankfurt/Rhine-Main), “Berliner/Pfannkuchen” are called “Kreppel” – again with no geographic meaning attached.

    Incidentally, while we're on the topic of hamburgers, a large fried glob of minced meat (rather thicker than a hamburger patty) is sometimes called a “deutsches Beefsteak” (German beef steak). This can throw people off in restaurants when on the strength of the word “Beefsteak” they expect a solid piece of meat.

  65. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 7:49 am

    A George: The version with 'Double Dutch' also appears on the stereo recording of At the Drop of a Hat, which, being made 'for posterity', leaves out some culturally specific references. (In 'A Transport of Delight' some names of cars are removed.) One would think that Caruso – already long dead when the recording was made – would be remembered indefinitely, but the same might not be true of Hutch.

  66. Alan Palmer said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 8:11 am

    The anti-Dutch sentiment in many English sayings is a relic of the wars between the English (later British) and the Dutch which took place, off and on, between 1652-1674 and between 1781-1810 (thanks Wikipedia). It shows that language can have a long memory!

  67. BenHemmens said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 8:43 am

    Here in Austria one can hear both »böhmisches Dorf« and »spanisches Dorf«. Both mean that something is a puzzle. The explanation I was given for böhmisches Dorf was that it's hard to find one's way into one. But maybe that was a polite version.

  68. KevinM said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 9:28 am

    And of course, when the Simpsons go to Rio de Janeiro: "We just call them nuts here."

  69. Philip said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 11:37 am

    Re Piyush's comment at about #7, Greeks generally say "it's Chinese to me", going all the way eastwards.

  70. Dan Curtin said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

    My grandfather, born in Buffalo NY around 1880, would call someone "a big Dutchman", meaning German. I could detect no hint of the pejorative, it was just descriptive. Similarly here in Northern Kentucky (suburban Cincinnati OH and with a high proportion of German surnames) I have heard people referred to as Campbell County Dutch, again with no apparent insult involved. I suspect Dutch for German was fairly common in the US.

  71. John Ohno said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 12:27 pm

    A dutch oven is called a dutch oven because the inventor learned ironworking in the netherlands, which at the time had superior casting techniques. (Source: the dutch oven episode of Good Eats. Don't blame me; blame Alton Brown.)

  72. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

    Anselm Lingnau:

    In the US, a ground beef patty, sans bun, served with gravy is called a Salisbury steak. (I have no idea what they call it in Salisbury.)

  73. Xmun said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

    Thank you to the native speakers of German, Anselm Lingnau and Christiane. I shall pass on their comments to my son and daughter-law in Berlin.

  74. BP said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

    @AB hacerse el sueco is a common phrase in Spain and propably related to the waves of scandinavian tourists some decades ago

  75. David Marjanović said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 5:06 pm

    What are hamburgers called in Hamburg?

    Hamburger – in English pronunciation. Hämbörger basically. :-)

    In the area where I live (Frankfurt/Rhine-Main), “Berliner/Pfannkuchen” are called “Kreppel” – again with no geographic meaning attached.

    Krapfen in Austria – obviously the same root, just without the diminutive ending.

  76. Rich Rostrom said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

    Three additional non-pejorative uses of Dutch:

    Dutch uncle

    Dutch auction (prices are marked, then gradually reduced till someone buys)

    Dutch wife (a bamboo framework to rest one's legs on in a hot climate, thus having air around them)

  77. Tom V said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 9:01 pm

    Seafood at the Sydney Fish Market is sold by Dutch auction.

    I don't know if this is usual in the wholesale fish trade or not. I'm from Oklahoma.

  78. leoboiko said,

    March 30, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

    @KevinM: Oh but we don't, actually; in Brazil we call then "Pará nuts", Pará being a state in the north. I always thought that people in Pará probably call them "Belém nuts", and people in the city of Belém call them "downtown nuts", and downtown they call them "Joe's nuts", and Joe is the single worldwide source of Brazil nuts.

  79. 번하드 said,

    March 31, 2015 @ 10:46 am

    Ah, here in Germany we call mexican/cowboy breakfast "Nuttenfruehstueck" (prostitute breakfast)
    And (no surprise here) "Krapfen" is also the term used in Bavaria.

  80. Alon said,

    March 31, 2015 @ 11:01 am

    @Anselm Lingnau: you made the same comment about spanische Dörfer last year, and I mentioned at that time that the expression is attested in pretty learned contexts.

  81. BZ said,

    March 31, 2015 @ 3:32 pm

    In Russian, roller-coasters are known as "American mountains" whereas in America they are said to be developed in Russia, and are indeed called "Russian Mountains" in other languages.

    I heard from someone with enough authority to believe them all this time, though I don't remember who, that "Dutch" in "Going Dutch" refers to a German practice, and is a broken form of "Deutsch".

    At my last job, when we went to a restaurant and everyone payed an equal share (instead of their own), it was called "going Kanwal" (who was an employee) because he popularized the practice in the company.

  82. mira said,

    April 1, 2015 @ 11:20 pm

    I'm not a native Czech speaker, but my Czech is pretty good, and I have never heard anyone say it's colder than a German girl. I've heard "Better warm beer than a cold German girl", and I've heard "cold as in a Russian film" and "cold as at the train station in Kharkov". I might be missing something, though.

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