When you go out to a restaurant with your friends or family, does one person pay the entire bill or does everyone pay only for what they ate? If you are doing the latter, then you are going dutch! Going dutch is a phrase that means splitting the bill, whether it is at a restaurant or at a cinema theatre. But the term did not originate from blissful, happy places like these. In fact, its origin can be traced back to a centuries-old dispute between England and the Netherlands.
The two nations fought over colonies, seas and trade. In the seventeenth century, they fought three wars in twenty-two years. As a result of this rivalry, it was common practice for the English and Dutch to insult each other and call the other party vulgar names. In fact, the Dutch even used to claim that English people descended from the devil and hence have a tail! In England, Dutch began to mean anything that is inferior or sub-par. The wars ended, but these insults continued.
For example, a Dutch uncle was an authoritative figure. Dutch feasts were parties in which the host got drunk first. Dutch courage referred to the bravery people felt after consuming alcohol. The list goes on.
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While we cannot be absolutely certain how the English phrase ‘going dutch’ came to be, there are multiple credible theories. One claims that English sailors used the term to portray the people from the Netherlands as miserly or unwilling to share. Another theory argues that the word originated in the United States in the nineteenth century, and was from the slang of English-speaking sailors who travelled between docks in Europe and America. It is also argued that ‘going dutch’ is a mispronunciation of Deutsch (German) and that the term refers to the German-American habit of everyone buying their own drink. Yet another theory states that the term has nothing at all to do with English-Dutch rivalry and that it stems from Dutch doors that have two divisible parts, much like dividing bills!
While all these theories seem possible, most scholars believe that the term has some connection to English insults for the Dutch. Today, going dutch and paying for oneself is often seen as a good habit. But it’s interesting how the phrase was first coined as an insult! ‘Going Dutch’ truly shows us how fluid language can be.