5 Dutch idioms that are just too bizarre when translated

The Dutch language is notorious for being difficult to understand. From all those guttural dips to the stretching oouu noises, you’re really challenged from the get-go. However, if that wasn’t enough, there are idioms. So. Many. Bizarre. Idioms. 

The key to understanding Dutch idioms is to remember that Google Translate is certainly not your friend. Let’s start off light, shall we? 

1. Muggenziften en mierenneuken  

Ah yes, this one is a real charmer. “Muggenziften en mierenneuken” directly translates to sifting mosquitos and — ahem — “kanoodling with” ants. What on earth does this imply you may be wondering? 

Easy. If you’re sifting mosquitos and BLEEP-ing ants, you’re not only looking at the minute things in life, you’re going to the trouble of fiddling with them. Essentially, it means you’re sweating the small stuff and it’s time to chill — stay away from the ants you gekkie.

2. Het zit wel snor

In fact, if someone is looking to comfort you and remind you to swallow that chill pill, they may say “het zit wel snor” meaning — y’know, you probably guessed — “it sits like a moustache.” Capiche?

No? WHY NOT? Ok no we get it, there is nothing to be inferred from a well-placed moustache. This idiom has a simple meaning — “it’s ok.” Don’t you worry about a thing hun, forget the ants and mosquitos, alles is goed. 

3. Wie zijn billen brandt, moet op de blaren zitten

That being said, sometimes the metaphorical moustache just isn’t sitting well, you look homeless and — ok enough of trying to make our own idioms. Sometimes, poep happens. You mess up, and you have to deal with the consequences. 

People will tell you that “wie zijn billen brandt, moet op de blaren zitten” meaning “if you burn your ass, you need to sit on the blisters” — owie. Graphic imagery aside, the blisters are your consequences, and sometimes you need to pick up that mirror, drop your pants, and face them. 

4. Weten waar Abraham de mosterd haalt

Now this one is echt bizaare. If you’re a real smart cookie, or just a bit of a bragger, you may say that you “weten waar Abraham de mosterd haalt” or in English, that you “know where Abraham keeps the mustard.” 

Ummm, translation service please? Listen, we don’t know who Abraham is, or why someone would ever care where the mustard is (don’t come for us but Abraham can keep it.) Ultimately, this is somehow meant to infer that you know what you’re talking about. 

5. Het regent pijpenstelen

“It’s raining tobacco pipe stems”?! More like it’s raining completely gek Dutch phrases. Imagine the soothing sound of laying in bed at night, being gently lulled off to sleep by the relaxing sound of…tobacco pipes crashing down on the roof above your head? Dames en heren introducing “it’s raining tobacco pipe stems”. Of course, this saying really does make sense — it’s used when it’s raining really, truly ridiculously hard (which in the Netherlands is, um, always). 

But we have one question Dutchies — why tobacco pipes? Who sat listening to the rain one night in 17th century Netherlands and thought “Yep, that sounds exactly as if thousands of tobacco pipes fell out of the sky!” It’s probably not what we would have compared it to, but Dutchies do what Dutchies do, we guess. 


Enough idioms is enough, otherwise, we’ll need to get ourselves a whole in-house translation agency to make our way through these super-strange but super-Dutch idioms! 

Which of these bizarre Dutch idioms tickled your fancy? (👈  Hey, an English idiom!) Tell us your favourites in the comments below!

Feature Image: gpointstudio/Depositphotos

Sarah O'Leary 🇮🇪
Sarah originally arrived in the Netherlands due to an inability to make her own decisions — she was simply told by her mother to choose the Netherlands for Erasmus. Life here has been challenging (have you heard the language) but brilliant for Sarah, and she loves to write about it. When Sarah is not acting as a safety threat to herself and others (cycling), you can find her sitting in a corner of Leiden with a coffee, trying to sound witty.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. It sounds vaguely reminiscent of a regional English idiom; “it’s raining stair rods” which is, for the older generation anyway, fairly self explanatory.

  2. What would adutchie think if you wereto tell them “it is raining cats and dogs”

    A Canadian idiom?

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