Unique Dutch Words

I had to discuss 3 Dutch words that don’t have a direct English translation for Dutch Culture and Society I from last semester. Assignments like this were simple and not what I’d typically have to do for college courses, but they are still fun and forced me to look into Dutch history more than I would have on my own!

The Dutch words gezellig, inburgeren, and tsjonge jonge do not have a direct translation into English, but it is easy to describe what they mean in a few English words.

While the Dutch to English dictionary translates gezellig to “cozy,” I think it has more significance. Gezellig not only is an adjective to describe a place, such as a home or a bar, but also describes a feeling that is prompted when in comforting company and feeling relaxed and warm. As I researched this word, I found that Dutch people could use it, on average, three times a day. I think this is true. Just yesterday, the weather was miserable and my friends and I couldn’t find a café with a table for us. We stumbled upon one that was dark and warm, with rich wooden tables and candles. None of us are Dutch, but all ended up saying “gezellig!” upon entering. On this same rainy day, I walked into a shop on Spuistraat dressed in many layers and my biggest scarf. The shop owner spoke to me in Dutch, and I recognized that he had used the word gezellig. Luckily I had read about this assignment already and asked him what he was referring to, and he said I looked very cozy, which was appropriate for how the weather was outside.

Inburgeren in Dutch translates to the verb “naturalize” in English. More research into the meaning of inburgeren was necessary, as I had no idea what the dictionary was trying to describe. It turns out that inburgeren is across between “to assimilate” and “to adapt.” While the English definition of “assimilation” includes forgetting one’s own culture and adopting new traits, I think inburgeren doesn’t include this aspect. One can integrate into society without losing their own ideals, and that’s what we have been working to do here while exchange students in Amsterdam.

Tsjonge jonge was a fun word to research because I don’t think I’ve actually heard it used before. I also didn’t study this in my Dutch language course. The English translation is “oh my!” or “wow,” to show surprise or amazement. I’m curious to hear how this word should be pronounced, and if it is a common word or one only used in especially surprising situations. Tsjonge jonge reminds me of a few other words I learned while taking Dutch lessons, which were helaas and jammer, both words that are used in conversation but not necessary vocabulary. These are important words to know as they are frequently heard and show more emotion than vocabulary; this allows a foreigner to connect better with the Dutch speaker they are in a conversation with.

I look forward to learning more Dutch phrases and words during my year in the Netherlands. I keep a personal blog that my friends and family read, and I frequently use Dutch words here and there that I have to explain. Gezellig is definitely one of my go-to words, because it describes a specific feeling that Amsterdam has provided for me that is much different from what I’ve experienced at home. Thinking of the holidays in America, however, does provide me with a similar, cozy feeling.


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