If you look up the word ‘dus’ in a Dutch-to-English language book it will tell you that it translates into the word ‘so’. However, this is a terrible over simplification. The word ‘dus’ is used by the Dutch to communicate a wide range of thoughts, feels, emotions, insights, desires and meanings that are not covered by this simple translation. Today we will look at a few of its many meanings:
The Short Dus (Direct)
The short ‘dus’ communicates anger. It is often used to punctuate the end of an argument and declare ones self the winner. It is supposed to be the final word that crushes the opponent and signal that it is either time to storm out of the room or slam down the phone.
Meaning: This argument is over! I win!
Example: I’m right. You’re wrong. Plus you’re an a**hole. Dus!
The Short Dus (Indirect)
This version of the short ‘dus’ is similar to the previous but it is used when re-telling the argument to a friend who did not witness the original fight. It still communicates anger but it is not directed at the listener (even though it might sometimes feel like it).
Meaning: I won that argument!
Possible Additional Meaning: And you better agree with me!
Example: “I was right. He was wrong and he’s an a**hole. Dus!”
The Giggle Dus:
This ‘dus’ is friendly and often accompanied by a small chuckle. It is used when delivering the punch line of a joke or a funny story that the user finds amusing. Sometimes it is even replaces the punch line to leave the outcome up to the listeners imagination. It can also be used as a reaction to hearing something amusing.
Meaning: This is (or that was) really funny.
Example: “He left his computer logged into facebook… Dus. Hehe.”
The Drawn Out Dussssss (Confused)
If the Dutch are confused about something they will often use the drawn out ‘dus’ to communicate this. It signals that farther information is required and is often used in a moment of silence when something has not been fully explained yet. The longer the dus, the greater the confusion.
Meaning: And? What happens (or happened) next?
The Drawn Out Dussssss (Sarcastic)
The sarcastic version of the drawn out ‘dus’ is used when the idiot you are trying to explain something to is too stupid to understand. If you are tired of repeating yourself simply replace the instructions or explanation you would normally give with the drawn out ‘dus’ instead.
Meaning: Could you be more stupid?
Example: It’s so easy a child could do it. Dusssssssss *roll eyes*
The Contemplative Dus:
When the outcome or result of an action is unknown the contemplative ‘dus’ is often used. It is a slightly submissive ‘dus’ that suggests no farther action will be taken by the person using it, either because there are no options left to them or they simply cannot be bothered. It is sometimes accompanied by a shrug.
Meaning: We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.
Example: “I’ve done everything I can… Dus.” *shoulder shrug*
The Reactionary Dus:
When something surprising or unexpected happens the reactive ‘dus’ is often used. It can convey genuine surprise or be used in a sarcastic manner when someone is not following the Dutch ‘doe normaal’ rule.
Meaning: That was (or is) weird.
Do you know any other uses of the word dus that should be included?
I have come to the conclusion that the Dutch have a very special ability. It might even be possible to call it a super power. I am not sure if it is a skill that they are born with or one that they develop naturally over time but it is something that I have encountered a lot.
Every time I try to talk Dutch with an unfamiliar Dutch person they are able to detect, analyse and identify my accent before I’ve even fully formed the first syllable of the first word of my sentence. It is entirely possible that the Dutch can hear my accent as I breathe.
“Ohhh. You,re English,” they will often interject as I stand there with my mouth open having only muttered the sound ‘umm’ or ‘err’ or simply having coughed. They even managed to say it with a hint of surprise that suggests they should have identified my accent sooner (before I entered the room for example).
It is either a form of super human hearing that allows the Dutch to do this or they have just had a lot of practise hearing people mangle their difficult language beyond recognition. The second option seems more likely because it is probably something that happens so often that they have been able to fine tune their accent detection instincts. Maybe they have even learnt to identify certain mistakes with certain countries (thus aiding the identification process).
“Oh. You pronounces the ‘ei’ sound as ‘aaa’. That’s a classic English mistake.”
Wherever I go in Holland it is almost impossible to say anything in Dutch without being immediately identified. This must make life very stressful for any spies who are trying to lay low in the Lowlands. They must be in constant fear of detection just from having to have a casual conversation with a passer by.
Even at an early age Dutch children seem to have this special power. Have you ever attempted to speak Dutch to a small Dutch child? It rarely goes as you expect. In my experience they might not be able to identify your accent yet and they might not even be able to fully understand that there is such a thing as a non-Dutch person but they will know something is wrong. They know it just by hearing your attempts to speak the language that, they themselves, have not even fully mastered yet. Then they will just stare at you in an awkward silence (awkward for you, not for them) as if waiting for you to stop being strange and start making sense.
No one can hold up to that kind of pressure for long and if you are a spy there is no dignity in having your cover blown by a three year old.
This cartoon first appeared in the September/October edition of DUTCH:The Magazine
, a bi-monthly magazine for Dutch descendants and expats living in Canada.
Life is full of mysteries. Who are we? Why are we here? Did I leave the oven on? Great big mysteries that are difficult to solve and keep a lot of very intelligent people busy.
However, there is a mystery that is bigger than any mystery ever pondered! Larger than any question ever asked! More infinite than any puzzle ever puzzled! Many people have attempted to solve this mystery and been driven insane by it. It is simply cannot and will not be solved… What is the correct usage of de and het in the Dutch language?
The true meaning of life will be solved long before anyone even comes close to solving this unsolvable mystery.
Please! Do not try to answer this question yourself. Even if you believe that you know the answer. Simply pondering this question for even a moment can put your mental health at serious risk. Thinking about if for just one second puts your sanity in danger. If you are an expat trying to learn the language it is far safer to just get it wrong and refer to things as de huis or het man (for example). It simply is not worth risking trying to get it right. I cannot stress this enough.
Dutch people especially might think they can answer this mystery. They are Dutch after all and being Dutch is a pretty good qualification to have on the subject of being and speaking Dutch. However, no matter how much they think they know the answer the truth is that they do not. This becomes very evident the moment they make the mistake of trying to explain the answer.
At first it is all very simple. ‘De’ is used for masculine and feminine words, where as ‘Het’ is used for neutral words. That’s it. How hard can it be?… But then they remember that one occasion where the rule does not work… and then that other one where it does not apply… and another where it is invalid… and that strange one where the rule is flipped… and sometimes reversed… or occasionally upside down… or when a entirely different rule is used based on the position of the moon!
Suddenly they realize they cannot explain the mysteries of De and Het. It was foolish of them even to attempt to do so, and it is probably best that they stop before the headache (that they don’t remember having a few moments ago) gets any worse.
It is at this point that there is only one explanation that they can give, wise words that have been handed down from generation to generation of Dutchman when dealing with outsiders trying to learn the language; “You just have to know it.”
It is a mystery that can never be solved without being born Dutch. And even then, trying to truly understand or explain it ends in madness.
Still don’t believe me that it is dangerous to attempt solving this mystery? While writing this post I had a migraine.
There is no other sentence in the whole of the Dutch language that will get you into more trouble than “Ik spreek een klein beetje Nederlands.”
In the beginning it might seem harmless enough. After all it is just a polite way of warning the Dutch what kind of conversation they are letting themselves in for when they try to communicate with you. What could be wrong with that? It even shows a willingness to learn the language.
Maybe it is the first Dutch sentence you learn. Maybe you even start using it to open every conversation with every Dutch person you meet and in the beginning they will most likely appreciate your attempts to speak their difficult language.
But then it slowly starts to happen…
With each new encounter you become more confident in using the sentence. Over time your stutters and stammers become less, your pronunciation improves and you even start getting all the words in the right order. In fact, the rest of your Dutch might not improve at all but you become really, really good at saying this one sentence. And because of that, it happens…
One day, you meet a Dutch person you have never met before and (for whatever reason) you enter into a conversation with them. Expecting the same positive reaction you have received countless times before you use your trusted sentence, “Ik spreek een klein beetje Nederlands.”
But they don’t respond with the usual appreciation. They don’t commend you on your attempts to speak the language and joke with you about how well you are doing. They just stare at you like you are a complete and total liar.
The look of mistrust should come as no surprise. It’s your own fault. On the one hand you have just informed them that you can’t speak much Dutch but on the other you have just done so using better diction and pronunciation than most members of the Dutch royal family.
It’s like a Dutchman approaching you in the street while wearing a top hat and monocle suddenly announcing, “I am so terribly sorry to inconvenience you old chap but my abilities in the English language are sadly lacking in verbosity. Please do forgive my embarrassed attempts at communicating with you.”
It sends very mixed signals.
And even if they don’t think you are somehow trying to trick them you are in even more trouble because they will instead assume you are simply being modest and suddenly launch into the kind of full speed Dutch conversation that even a diplomatic translator would have trouble understanding.
Any confused, blanked and (let’s be honest) slightly panicked expressions on your part won’t help either because they are now convinced that you are a master of the Dutch language. They will simply assume they have used one of the small handful of Dutch words you have not got around to learning yet and repeat the sentence with a different and inevitably (for you) more difficult set of words as if the previous words were somehow to far below your IQ level to be understood.
There is usually no way out at this point and it simply becomes easier to simply nod and smile a lot. In fact, in the future when using the sentence “Ik spreek een klein beetje Nederlands” it’s probably safer to say it really, really badly.