Britain and the Netherlands, historically two of the world’s greatest seafaring nations, have long been close allies with a lengthy history of kinship and peaceful cooperation. Apart from the Anglo-Dutch War, of course. And the Second Anglo-Dutch War that broke out a decade after that. And, for that matter, the Third Anglo-Dutch War the decade after that. But apart from those, the two countries have always got along. Although there was the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War in 1780. And relations weren’t great during the Glorious Revolution either, when the Dutch prince William of Orange overthrew James II and claimed the English throne. And then, of course, Britain fought against Dutch troops during the French Revolutionary War. And the Napoleonic Wars too. Hmm. Is it too late to start this chapter again? Right.
Where is Amsterdam, Netherlands? – Amsterdam, Netherlands Map – Amsterdam, Netherlands Map Download Free Photo Gallery
Britain and the Netherlands have a long history of mutual enmity and have declared war on one another countless times throughout their combined histories. And for precisely that reason, all things Dutch don’t come off too well when you look them up in the dictionary.
Probably the most famous example of this anti-Dutch sentiment is the English expression Dutch courage – namely, not true courage at all, but temporary bravery occasioned by alcohol. Then there’s double Dutch, a nineteenth-century expression alluding to the fact that
English speakers once found spoken Dutch so unintelligible that its name became a byword for impenetrable gibberish. Dutch jawbreakers, likewise, are words deemed impossibly difficult to pronounce, and in sixteenth-century English, Dutch fustian was impossibly overblown or pretentiously impenetrable language (though more on that later).
A Dutch auction is an auction in which a high opening price has to be lowered until it attracts the first bidder. In eighteenth-century English, a Dutch concert was cacophonous sound of more than one song or piece of music being performed simultaneously. A Dutch bargain is no bargain at all, but a deal in which one side takes advantage of the other. And when a carpenter goes to hit a nail but misses, the resulting indentation is nicknamed a Dutch rose.
To do a Dutch is to desert one’s responsibilities. To offer Dutch consolation is to be thankful that things aren’t any worse than they already are. A Dutch widow was once a prostitute, and a Dutch clock a bedpan. To take a Dutchman’s draught is to unapologetically take the last swig from a shared bottle – the kind of brazen behaviour you might expect from the host of a Dutch feast, a slang expression for a party at which the host gets drunk before the guests. A Dutchman’s anchor is anything that, when desperately needed, cannot be found; according to Frank C. Bowen’s 1929 collection of Sea Slang, this term alludes to an infamous Dutch sea captain, ‘who explained after the wreck that he had a very good anchor, but had left it at home’. And perhaps strangest of all, according to one dictionary of 1912, ‘when a person treads in dung, he is said to cut his foot with a Dutchman’s razor’.
With all of these in mind, it might come as little surprise to discover that the name of the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam -or ampster for short – is an old slang word for a con artist’s accomplice, or a plant placed in the audience of a showboating pedlar to encourage the crowd to buy whatever he’s hawking. It might sound as if we should add this word to that long list of anti-Dutch expressions above, but, bucking the trend here, there is actually a much more wholesome explanation.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ampster probably first emerged in Australian English, and derives not from the English language’s age-old animosity towards the Dutch but from Australian rhyming slang. An Amsterdam, among Australian sheep farmers at least, is a ram, and perhaps because of the questionable behaviour of rutting male sheep, it was the word ram that initially became a slang nickname for a fraudster’s assistant. The words eventually became conflated, however, and Amsterdam was reluctantly dragged into an unwholesome association with tricksters and underhand dealings in the early 1940s. Sometimes etymology really isn’t fair.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a two-way street. To the Dutch, ‘to write an English letter’, een Engelschen brief schrijven, is to take a nap after eating a large meal, and a reputation for poor English diets and endless epidemics likewise led to sweating sickness being known as Engelsch zweet, or ‘English sweat’, and rickets as Engelsche ziekte, or ‘English disease’.
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