Published: 29th April 2018
Have you heard of 'Dutch courage'? Find out some of the interesting idioms in English
English langue uses plenty of idioms in an interesting way. The universality of the language is the result of it incorporating various lagunages and dialects
The English language has idioms of different nationalities. Have you come across these idioms: go Dutch, Chinese whispers, French leave and Greek to me? Knowing the meaning and origin of such idiomatic expressions can help learners develop their linguistic competence.
The phrase ‘go Dutch’ means everyone in a group pays for themselves or shares the cost of something equally. The phrase must have originated in the Netherlands where it is a common practice for people to pay for their share of expenses when they go out as a group for meals or other activities. Read this conversation between two friends:
John: Shall we go out for dinner?
Mary: That would be great if you can treat us.
John: Treat? I don’t have enough money to treat you. Why don’t we go Dutch?
Mary: Going Dutch? Sorry, I don’t have money. If you are ready to pay for my dinner, I can join you.
John: If it is on a Dutch-treat basis, we can go.
You can also use the phrase ‘Dutch treat’ to talk about such a meal or social outing where everyone in a group pays their own portion of the bill.
• The group has decided to have a Dutch-treat dinner at Hotel Buhari.
Won’t it be great if everyone in India understands the importance of Dutch treat and goes Dutch? Here are a few more Dutch phrases. ‘Dutch courage’ refers to the courage one gains from drinking alcohol. It is the false courage that is the result of alcoholic consumption. It is also known as ‘liquid courage’.
• Today he behaved differently. He sounded very firm and resolute while speaking to me over the phone. It could be his ‘Dutch courage’.
• Let me have a couple of drinks to give me Dutch courage.
The phrase ‘Dutch uncle’ is used to refer to a person who criticises others frankly, firmly and bluntly, but with a benevolent intent. A ‘Dutch uncle’ does not hide his emotions. In other words, he is not diplomatic.
• We all like his lectures because he speaks like a Dutch uncle.
• I call him a Dutch uncle because he is known for giving honest criticism.
The expression ‘Chinese whispers’ is mainly used in British English. When a person gossips to another person, it spreads like wild fire and in the process, gets distorted and exaggerated. This process is described as ‘Chinese whispers’. It is a popular communication game conducted by trainers as a group activity to make the participants understand that if a message is shared from person to person, it is distorted. Why is it called Chinese whispers?
According to some sources, it originated in the seventeenth century. Europeans found it difficult to comprehend China’s culture and world view.
• Like the old Chinese whisper, rumours grow and grow.
If someone is absent from work without permission, we say that the person has taken French leave. The expression alludes to an eighteenth century custom in France of leaving receptions without saying goodbye to one’s host or hostess. Here is an example:
• The day the wife returned from her French leave, her husband took French leave and went to his mom’s house. A wonderful couple, indeed.
What are the equivalent expressions to refer to an act of interrupting and joining a discussion with others to give our comments?
— Peter, Mangaluru
The expression ‘chime in’ can be used when someone wants to join in a discussion and give their suggestions or offer their thoughts. Look at these examples:
• When they were talking about the Kathua rape incident, I chimed in and expressed my views.
• While two students were discussing when the internet was invented, an Indian politician chimed in and said that the internet existed during Mahabharata days.
( Albert P Rayan is an ELT resource person and a Professor of English )