Sunday, May 9, 2010

Origin: Dutch courage

Byter Carla has asked for a Bytes on the origin of Dutch courage. Here it is.


Courage obtained as a result of being intoxicated or from using alcohol. The implication is therefore that the courage so obtained would not otherwise be present, that is, that the person would be cowardly without the alcohol.


References in numerous phrases to things being “Dutch” reflect the low regard the English, and later the colonial Americans, had for the people of Holland. In the 17th and 18th centuries the English and the Dutch were major rivals for control of the seas, trade and colonisation. Four wars, not unsurprisingly termed the Anglo-Dutch Wars, were fought between those countries in those centuries.

There are a number of possible derivations of the phrase “Dutch courage”:

1. English sailors and soldiers may have devised the term as a sleight on their enemies, the suggestion being that the Dutch were only brave when drunk.  There is a reference to the reputed heavy drinking of the Dutch, with an association to courage, in Edmund Waller's Instructions to a Painter (1665): "The Dutch their wine, and all their brandy lose, Disarm'd of that from which their courage grows."

2. An alternative explanation dates from 1665 when London was subject to the Great Plague. No ships would deliver supplies to London with the exception of Dutch merchant sailors who made it a condition of delivery that their rum rations were doubled.

3. The third explanation comes from the fact that the Dutch invented gin. Drinking of gin became a problem in 18th century England, resulting in restrictions on the sale and purchase of it. It is thought that somehow the invention of gin by the Dutch became linked to alcohol fuelled courage.

Further examples of pejorative terms using the word "Dutch" are:

Double Dutch: something difficult to understand or nonsensical.

Dutch treat: each person pays for themselves

Dutch uncle: someone who lectures too much or gives heavy handed, unwelcome advice

Dutch auction: one in which the auctioneer starts with a high price and drops the price until someone buys it

Dutch concert: one in which everyone is playing a different tune.

Dutch act: suicide.

We won’t go into Dutch cap or Dutch oven, which can be looked up at:

In 1934 the Dutch were sufficiently pissed at the all the negative references using the term "Dutch" that their government officially decided to drop the word 'Dutch' and use 'Netherlands' whenever possible.

So there you have it Carla, and if that isn’t all true and correct, I’m a Dutchman. (Well, actually, I am…)


  1. I don't believe that is the correct origin of the term Dutch Courage.
    I was told by people who work on The Thames boats that during the plague, the Dutch were the only people who would come up the river with supplies for London. Without the Dutch, London would have died, so Dutch Courage actually means extreme courage...