Normally we would try and teach you some decent Dutch words (probably seven!) in an article on the Dutch language. We would give you the true meaning and what it literally means in English, we’ll probably throw in a pun or 2 to make it worth your while. However, some Dutch words are just not meant to be nicely translated, making it harder for the Non-Dutch speakers to ever truly get to the essence of all this Dutch-speaking mambo jambo. Let’s have a look at these untranslatable words of Dutch! (And lucky for us – the majority of them has some puns in them as well)

Before we get going, we’d really like to thank Bart de Pau from Learn Dutch for helping us on all these untranslatable words of Dutch. Check out Learn Dutch (and their epic 50K-followers Youtube channel) if you’re serious about learning Dutch!

Afbellen or Afblazen

At first you would say afbellen? easy DutchReview, that’s just calling it off.’ But let’s make it complicated straight away because it also means that when you do a round of calling up familymembers for when the next kaasstroopwafel-get-together is you can also say ‘Ik ben de hele familie aan het afbellen’.

‘Cancelling it’ might be better stated by saying ‘afblazen’ – which literally means blowing off.

Plaatsvervangende schaamte – Leedvermaak

Plaatsvervangende schaamte is the feeling of shame you experience caused by someone else’s (stupid) actions. It’s that feeling you get when you see your President is making a fool of himself in a press-conference (hypothetical situation here). Actually, when digging through the possible meaning of these words I found the term ‘vicarious shame’ but I never saw that used, what’s up with that?

‘Leedvermaak’ is when you gleefully enjoy yourself because of some else’s misfortune. The German phrase ‘schadenfreude’ is now the term widely used for that – if you’re not so fond of a certain President and he/she is screwing up then you might feel that.

Oh – forgot to mention, if reading isn’t your thing, then check out our shiny Learn Dutch video with some extra untranslatable words 😉



Literally translated this means ‘outsicking’ – meaning when you just let the illness run its course and you get some rest until it is over. But make sure not to mix it up with ‘zieken’ – which means teasing somebody. You’ll get why you don’t want to get those phrases wrong at work.

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You might be hearing a lot about this term these days since you’re right in the middle of the bouwvak-period right now (end July – middle August more or less). It’s derived from ‘bouw-vakantie’ which means build holiday. By now you can probably guess what it means, it’s when nearly all the construction work is halted in order for the construction workers to go on holiday. The first Saturday of the ‘bouwvak’ is ‘Zwarte Zaterdag’ – when the roads to France are all choked up with holiday going Dutchies and their caravans.

Bouwvak has not so much to do with Bouwvakkersdecolleté (Plumber’s crack), but for obvious reasons it’s wise not to mix these 2 up.


Uitwaaien means ‘blowing out’ – but it has nearly nothing to do with our soft-drugs culture. You can take a joint to the beach though when you’re going for ‘uitwaaien’ as it means undertaking that refreshing thing of going for a walk and getting some air (preferably at a windy beach).


Uitbuiken – natafelen

There has got to be more words for ‘uitbuiken’ in other languages, help me out folks! It literally translates to ‘bellying out’ and it means letting the food settle after a nice meal. The other one ‘natafelen’ translates to ‘aftertableing’ – it’s not the same as uitbuiken as natafelen is more focused at all the gezelligheid of sitting with friends or family at a table after a meal and drinking a bit and having some cozy fun. The Spanish have a word for it, Sobremesa. 


Voorpret = pre-fun. Voorpret is about enjoying an event or something before it is happening. You typically experience it before weddings, parties, holidays and Game of Thrones premieres. What’s the proper English term? Excitement? Perhaps ‘looking forward to it’? Both don’t cover it completely, think about it as the fun you’re having when reading an article on Rotterdam’s architecture before the visit to the town itself.


Together with ‘lekker’ one of the most used examples of untranslatable words of Dutch. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be trapped in a Dutch circle of death party, you would have heard this phrase used many times. As you should know after spending more than 7 minutes at any Dutch gathering, the word ‘Gezellig’ can be genuinely used (echt gezellig), lyingly used (it was gezellig with my mother in law) or sarcastically (‘GEZELLIG HOOR’ when your cousin is fighting with your racist aunt about a Zwarte Piet discussion).

Oh right, we missed out lekker, well – we’ve got movies explaining more Dutch words for you. And if Dutch swear words seem necessary to you, then we have that too!

I want to learn Dutch and truly understand ‘gezellig uitbuiken in Scheveningen’

For those of us who want to learn Dutch before arriving in the Netherlands, check out Bart de Pau from the excellent Learn Dutch (and his really helpful Youtube channel) they’ve got good tutorials and plenty of entertaining videos as well there:

Really the go-to  place for Learning Dutch, both online and through their real-life courses! Thanks for helping us out with these words Bart!

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on 8 August 2018, but was updated for your reading pleasure on 14 February 2020. 

Feature Image: Image: na4ev/Pixabay


  1. Hi you guys & girls,

    Great article, let me suggest another one….

    Bit more down to Earth and highly amazing the seafaring English never got around to developing this word….

    “Varen”as in bootje varen not “fern” doesn’t seem to have an English equivalent.

    Seafaring comes close, but I never heard faring being used, it’s always sailing or steaming. Both of which refer to the method of propulsion not to the actual activity of moving a boat or ship through the water…..

    Or am I missing something?

      • When we start to talk dutch we are using so many expressions out of the seaman’s language that we can not really avoid it .
        Van wanten weten
        Boven water blijven
        Ten tij en ten ontij
        In veilige haven zijn
        De wind in de zeilen hebben
        In t water vallen
        Je schepen verbranden enz enz enz All these are just normal daily language expressions ,used by everybody ,even people that have never put a foot in salt water ..(could be difficult to find among the dutch )
        Ok ,goede vaart !

  2. Plaatsvervangende schaamte may not be translatable to english, but it is in spanish: vergüenza ajena. lovely concept


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