The Grammarphobia Blog

Dutch treats

Q: I’m not sure if you’ve ever been asked about the phrase “going Dutch,” but I’m curious about its origins.

A: The expression “to go Dutch” means to pay your own way, or to split the check. “Dutch treat,” “Dutch lunch,” “Dutch party,” and “Dutch supper” are other ways of referring to paying your own way or bringing your own food—and suggesting that the Dutch are stingy penny-pinchers.

Those are among many derisive expressions that the Oxford English Dictionary traces to the rivalry and enmity between the English and the Dutch in the 17th century.

To be “in Dutch” means to be in disfavor, for example, and a “Dutch auction” is one in which the bidding starts high and gradually drops down to a fair price.

Quite a few expressions allude to the supposed drinking habits of the Dutch (a 1654 citation in the OED, for example, refers to “Dutch Bargains…made in drinke”).

Typical of the anti-Dutch slights is this quotation from the Fielding novel Tom Jones (1749): “I’m afraid Mr. Jones maintained a kind of Dutch defence, and treacherously delivered up the garrison without duly weighing his allegiance to the fair Sophia.”

Nowadays, of course, friends often “go Dutch” by pre-arrangement, and no offense is taken.

Buy Pat’s books at a local store or Amazon.com.