Hi. I have a question on English grammar. My dictionaries say that it's not good to use the expression 'go Dutch.' They say it's kind of making fun of the Dutch. Is it true? If so, how about the expression 'go American'? Like when we say 'He's gone American,' does it sound ridiculing Americans? If so, how about the expression 'go Republican'? Is it teasing Republicans? I'm not meaning any ridicule. I'm just asking a question on some English idioms. Thanks in advance!
Q From Robert Legleitner, Kentucky: Recently on a writing forum I visit, quite a discussion erupted about the term Dutch as in Dutch treat and Dutch uncle. Some writers, fearing criticism and acutely conscious of political correctness, were afraid to use them as being pejorative. Where do we get these terms?
A Dutch readers should perhaps look away ...
In the seventeenth century, the Dutch and British were enemies. Both wanted maritime superiority for economic reasons, especially control of the sea routes from the rich spice islands of the East Indies. The two countries fought three wars at sea between the years 1652 and 1674. At the lowest point of the struggle, in May 1667, the Dutch sailed up the Medway, sank a lot of ships, and blockaded the Thames. The Dutch were powerful, they were the enemy, they were the bad guys, and their name was taken in vain at every opportunity.
The stereotype of the Dutchman among the English at this period was somebody stolid, miserly, and bad-tempered, and these associations, especially the stinginess, were linked to several phrases. Only a small number of them are actually recorded in print from the time of the Dutch wars, most being of eighteenth century provenance or later. But there’s nothing so long-lasting as traditional enmity; later phrases borrowed the ideas from earlier ones, and in any case many are certainly older than their date of first recording.
Examples from the time of the Dutch wars include Dutch reckoning, a bill that is presented without any details, and which only gets bigger if you question it, and a Dutch widow, a prostitute. In the same spirit, but recorded later, are Dutch courage, temporary bravery induced by alcohol; Dutch metal, an alloy of copper and zinc used as a substitute for gold foil; Dutch comfort or Dutch consolation, in which somebody might say “thank God it is no worse!”; Dutch concert, in which each musician plays a different tune; and Dutch uncle, someone who criticises or rebukes you with the frankness of a relative.
However, a Dutch auction is strictly not a member of this set, since it refers to a real practice, still used today for example in the Netherlands to sell flowers and other produce. Instead of starting low and going higher, the auction starts with a high price and reduces it. The first dealer to bid gets the lot at the current price. And going Dutch, one in which those invited pay for themselves, appeared in the US only in the late nineteenth century and has a different origin.
But otherwise, you get the idea. Yes, they are pejorative. Using them requires thoughtful consideration of the offence that might possibly be given. However, some are now so embedded in the language that direct associations with the Dutch or the Netherlands have largely been lost — Dutch uncle, for example.
Going Dutch — to which we can add Dutch lunch, Dutch treat, Dutch party and Dutch supper, all with closely similar meanings — are American creations from the nineteenth century. The oldest of these in the record is Dutch treat:
If our temperance friends could institute what is called the “Dutch treat” into our saloons, each man paying his reckoning, it would be a long step towards reforming in drinking to excess.
Daily Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri), 27 Jun. 1873. A “no treating” rule of this kind was in fact introduced into British pubs by law during the First World War for exactly this purpose.
Confusingly for the etymological researcher, before Dutch lunch and Dutch supper took on their idiomatic meanings they were used in the literal sense of a meal that reflected a particular culture. The evidence shows they were more correctly German, a common error of the time, as in Pennsylvania Dutch. For example, a newspaper report in 1894 mentions that for a Dutch supper to be successful everything must be “consistently expressive of [the] vaterland” and mentions rye bread, cabbage salad, Wienerwursts and beer as being on offer.
This is the first idiomatic example of Dutch lunch I can find:
Perhaps you have a fatter pocketbook than some of the other fellows. I, for instance, can’t afford to buy two tickets every time I go. So some of the boys and I go on the “Dutch lunch” plan: everybody for himself.
Fort Wayne Morning Journal, 24 Oct. 1897.
The evidence makes clear that going Dutch and its synonyms are too recent and from the wrong continent to be linked with the ancient enmity between the English and the Dutch.
In the sentence below, do the native speakers of English feel doctors moving around?