The essential guide to Dutch profanity

Profanity is a part of every language, and Dutch is no exception. Like English, the Dutch language has swear words related to the human body, sexuality, religion, and intelligence. But unlike almost every other language, Dutch also has many swear words related to disease. We’ll look at the most commonly used swear words in every category, starting with English loanwords.

English swear words used in Dutch

Practically all Dutch people speak English and understand common swear words like “asshole,” “motherfucker,” and “son of a bitch.” They’re not generally preferred over the homegrown ones, but rest assured that if you use them, Dutch people will know what you mean. American swear words are more commonly understood than British ones, so you might still get away with calling someone a “bellend,” but don’t sue me if you don’t.

Some English swear words are fully integrated into the Dutch language, though. Dutch people say “shit” and “fuck” to express frustration all the time. These are actually two of the most common swear words.

Using “fucking” as an adjective is also extremely common. It’s perfectly normal for Dutch people to use this word for emphasis while talking to each other in Dutch. If you don’t speak Dutch, and you overhear Dutch people talking to each other, this can sometimes be the only word you pick up. Of course, young people having casual conversations with each other are more likely to talk like this than anyone else. People avoid it in formal settings.

The only English insults directed at other people that are fully integrated into the Dutch language are “bitch” and “fuck you.”

Dutch swear words related to body parts

As you might expect, there are plenty of genital-related swear words. You can call a man a “lul” (dick), an “eikel” (glans), or a “klootzak” (ballsack). “Klootzak” is slightly stronger than “lul” or “eikel,” but all are more or less similar to calling someone a dick in English.

“Lul” doubles as a verb, “lullen,” which is one of the words for talking. It generally refers to talking nonsense. To really emphasize that you don’t believe someone, you can say “je lult uit je nek,” which literally translates to “you’re dicking from your neck.” Granted, it poses some anatomical challenges, but so does talking out of your ass.

The word “eikel” (glans) is also the Dutch word for acorn, by the way. Feel free to guess why.

Likewise, there are swear words that refer to female genitals. “Doos,” “muts,” and “trut” are all examples of that, although most people have forgotten the original meaning of the last one. The words “doos” and “muts” are also the Dutch words for “box” and “knit cap,” so they’re only offensive in certain contexts. Calling a woman a “doos” or a “muts” implies that she’s stupid, while calling her a “trut” is more like calling her a bitch.

If a situation is, shall we say, suboptimal, you can say that it’s “klote” (vulgar word for testicles) or “kut” (vulgar word for vagina, similar to “cunt”). These words can be used as adjectives and adverbs too. Everything can be “klote” or “kut.”

Even though “klote” and “kut” have clear gender-specific origins, they’re not used that way. They’re both versatile, but people are more likely to say ”kut.” Stubbed your toe? “Kut!” Forgot to buy groceries? “Kut.” A bad day is a “kutdag.” If you feel like shit, you can say: “Ik voel me kut.” You can use it for virtually anything and attach it to virtually any other word.

You can even comfort someone by saying “wat kut voor je” (how “cunt” for you). You recognize that something is “kut” for the other person. Said in a caring way, that’s more or less the Dutch equivalent of “I’m sorry to hear that.” Intonation is everything, though. If you don’t sound like you care, it comes across as “sucks to be you.”

The crude word for ass is “reet.” Unlike in English, you can’t call someone an ass in Dutch. “Reet” is used to either refer to someone’s actual ass or to express indifference. “Het boeit me geen reet,” “het kan me geen reet schelen,” and “het zal me aan m’n reet roesten” are all ways to say that you don’t give a shit.

Dutch also has some built-in speciesism. When talking about humans, the words for head, mouth, arms and legs are “hoofd,” “mond,” “armen” en “benen.” Talking about other species, those same body parts are suddenly called “kop,” “bek,” and “poten.” People sometimes intentionally use the non-human words in reference to a human to signal disrespect, usually in sentences like “hou je bek/kop” (shut your mouth) and “blijf met je poten van me af” (keep your hands off of me).

One swear word that’s particularly popular among soccer fans when they disagree with the referee is “hondelul” (dog’s dick).

Dutch swear words related to sexuality

Like English, Dutch has many words for sex. The Dutch equivalent of the verb “to fuck” is “neuken.” It’s a crude word that people don’t use in polite conversation, but it’s not a multifunctional word like fuck. If people use this word, they’re actually talking about sex, with one exception: “mierenneuken.” “Mierenneuken” literally translates to “fucking ants” and it has the same meaning as nitpicking. People don’t consider this a particularly crude word, so you can hear it in many different contexts.

The Dutch equivalent of screwing is “naaien.” Just like in English, you can screw someone over in Dutch. And there’s one actual swear word based on this: “matennaaier.” It’s a word for someone who screws over his buddies.

Other common insults that will sound familiar are “slet” (slut) and “hoer” (whore). Strangely, there’s also a verb “ouwehoeren,” which literally translates to “old whores,” but it just means talking pointlessly. It’s not considered crude at all.

Even though the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, it’s not completely free of homophobia.

In Dutch, a respectful way to say that someone is gay is by actually using the word “gay.” It has been adopted into the Dutch language. In reference to men, the Dutch equivalent is “homo,” which is also considered perfectly acceptable in polite conversation. However, people who are homophobic use the word as a swear word. So, tone and context matter a lot.

The most common Dutch swear words that are comparable to faggot are “flikker” and “nicht.” Both of these words also have other meanings. “Flikker” can refer to falling, throwing, berating, and even a flickering light, and “nicht” is the word for female cousin. Calling a gay man a “flikker” or a “nicht,” however, is a blatant display of homophobia.

The respectful Dutch word for lesbian is “lesbisch.” And a disrespectful word, similar to dyke, is “pot.” Just like in English, the word “pot” is also used to refer to rounded containers, but unlike in English, it’s never used in reference to weed.

A swear word used for women who are considered to look or act like men is “manwijf.” It’s a combination of the words “man” (man) and “wijf” (crude word for woman).

Dutch also has a word that can be traced back to Sodom and Gomorrah: “sodemieter.” However, any link to sodomy has been lost over time. “Sodemieter op” simply means “fuck off.”

Dutch swear words related to religion

The Dutch version of goddammit is “godverdomme.” It’s sometimes shortened to “godver” (goddamn) or “verdomme” (dammit), but the unshortened version is most common. It only works as a standalone expression of frustration, so phrases like “damn you” or “those goddamn kids” don’t exist in Dutch, but it’s a popular swear word nonetheless.

For those who are worried about offending God, there are also three words similar to goshdarnit: ”potverdorie,” “potjandorie,” and just “verdorie.” Don’t use these if you want anyone to take you seriously as an adult, though.

And there are variations on “godverdomme” used specifically to express disgust, these are “gadverdamme,” “gadver,” “getverderrie,” and “getver.” All of these are strong statements of disgust, they’re meant for truly gross situations. Using them at the dinner table is considered extremely rude.

Other than that, Jesus’s name is used as a swear word in the exact same way as it is in English. People either say/shout “Jezus Christus” or just “Jezus.” The lite version of this swear word is “jeetje.”

Dutch swear words related to intelligence

Similar to mild insults in English that you can call your friends, like “dork,” there are also mild insults in Dutch that you can use when someone close to you does something stupid. Examples of these are “dombo” (a friendlier version of dumbass) and “pannenkoek” (pancake).

If we step up the intensity a little, we get swear words like “sukkel.” This word doubles as a verb to describe someone falling asleep slowly. With the right intonation, you can still use it as a friendly insult, but it’s definitely not taken that way by default.

Then there’s the Dutch equivalent of idiot: “idioot.” This word is slightly more offensive than “sukkel.” No matter how you say it, it’s never going to sound like a friendly insult.

“Achterlijk” is the Dutch word for “retarded,” but it’s not as controversial as its English counterpart. The word is considered acceptable when you’re talking about designs or decisions that are particularly nonsensical, like when you’re complaining about government bureaucracy. Calling another person “achterlijk” is always an insult, but it’s not more offensive than calling them an “idioot.”

One degree more offensive than “idioot” are the words “debiel” and “imbeciel.” These words are comparable to calling someone a “moron” in English.

A word that’s considered just as offensive as calling someone a “retard” in English is “mongool.” This one dates back to the time when doctors insulted people from Mongolia and people with Down syndrome simultaneously by referring to the latter as “Mongolian idiots.” In Dutch, “mongool” became the standard word for people with Down syndrome, and it has been used as a swear word ever since.

Because the swear word caught on, it eventually became impolite to use this word for people with actual Down syndrome. For a time, the polite way to refer to them was “mongooltjes” (little mongols), but now they’re just referred to as people with Down syndrome.

“Mongool” remains in use as one of the most offensive swear words in the Dutch language. And, inconveniently, the exact same word is used for people from Mongolia. So, whenever a Dutch person talks about someone from Mongolia, they always have to explain that they’re not using “Mongool” as a swear word.

Dutch swear words related to disease

Over the years, many diseases have been adopted as Dutch swear words. In fact, some of those words have been repeated so often that they’re not even recognized as swear words anymore. For example, the Dutch word for bully is “pestkop,” which literally translates to “plague head,” but nobody thinks anything of it.

In general, the most horrible diseases have been turned into swear words. And when those diseases were no longer considered a threat, the swear words began losing their strength. So, some diseases that once horrified Dutch people are now nothing more than barely offensive adjectives, like “pokke” (slang for smallpox) and “klere” (slang for cholera). “Takke” refers to having a stroke, but most people don’t know that, so it’s viewed in a similarly casual way.

Two ways to say “fuck off” are “pleur op” and “tief op.” “Pleur” refers to tuberculosis and “tief” refers to typhoid. Both of these are also used as adjectives in their full form: “tering” and “tyfus.” They’re more offensive than the other ones. And you can even say “krijg de tering” or “krijg de tyfus” to directly wish one of these diseases upon the person you’re talking to.

However, these diseases have been all but eradicated in the Netherlands. So, they still aren’t considered nearly as offensive as the one that’s actually killing many Dutch people in the present: cancer. The Dutch word for cancer is “kanker,” and it’s used as a swear word in every way imaginable.

Someone might miss their train and shout “kanker” in frustration. They might refer to the train as a “kankertrein” (cancer train). And if they get into an argument with someone, they might tell the other person to “kanker op” (fuck off, but more offensive) or call them a “kankerlijer” (literally: cancer patient). They might even combine “kanker” with other swear words, often leading to the ultimate insult: “kankermongool.” Yes, that’s literally an offensive way to say “cancer patient with Down syndrome,” and yes, that swear word is actually in use.

People who are really liberal with the word “kanker” also use it to amplify positive words. For example, they might describe something or someone as “kankerlekker” (cancer delicious). They basically use the word “kanker” in the same way that “fucking” is used in English.

Every Dutch person is familiar with these uses of the word “kanker,” but many of them wish they weren’t. They know or knew people with cancer and consider it hurtful and disrespectful that it’s used as a swear word, and even more so that it’s used to amplify positive words. Of course, the fact that it actually stings is one of the reasons some people use it, but I don’t recommend joining those people.

Why are diseases used as swear words in Dutch?

There are two theories. The first theory is that it has Yiddish origins. Jews were welcome in Holland, diseases were used as swear words in Yiddish, and Yiddish influenced Dutch. The second theory is that “goddammit” lost its shock value during the Reformation, so it was replaced by the worst physical threat: disease.

No one is certain if either of these theories is correct. Both raise further questions. If it has Yiddish origins, then we can ask the same question about Yiddish. Why were diseases used as swear words in Yiddish and not in other languages? And if it was related to the Reformation, then we should ask why people in other countries that experienced the same religious changes, like Germany, didn’t develop the same habit of turning diseases into swear words?

Maybe more research will give us a definitive answer at some point. For now, however, these are the two theories we got. Of course, the true reason could also be something we haven’t even thought of yet, or maybe it’s just coincidence.

Racist Dutch swear words

Although the Dutch were some of the most active slave traders in colonial times, there’s no word like the n-word in Dutch. The word “neger” is more or less equivalent to the word “negro” in English. Most white people in the Netherlands considered this a neutral word not that long ago, but they have since learned that many black people consider it offensive.

People who aren’t racist won’t use it. Racists in denial might still argue that it’s not a racist word. And people who are openly racist don’t consider it a swear word, so when they actually want to swear, they’ll either tag on adjectives like “kut” or “kanker” or go for something that’s considered even more offensive, like referring to black people as “apen” (apes/monkeys).

There’s also a Dutch character similar to Santa Claus, his name is Sinterklaas, who used to show up with a character in blackface called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). Although the blackface portrayal has been phased out in most places, this has been extremely controversial, with many white people resisting the notion that it was racist. Nonetheless, by now, everyone knows that black people generally didn’t appreciate it, and anyone who refers to a black person as Zwarte Piet at this point is intentionally disrespecting them.

Referring to people by their or their parents’ country of origin is considered normal in the Netherlands. If someone is born and raised in the Netherlands but both parents are from Morocco, that person is considered a “Marokkaan,” and they might refer to themselves that way too. It’s not considered an insult unless the context is racist or someone includes adjectives like “kut” or “kanker.”

There are some racist swear words that specifically target certain demographics, like “geitenneuker” (goat fucker) for people of North African or Middle Eastern descent and “spleetoog” (slit eye) for people of (East) Asian descent. But racism is also expressed in more insidious ways, without using profanity. For example, a racist might talk to a person of East Asian descent as if they’re placing an order at a Chinese restaurant.

Other Dutch swear words you should know about

We’ve covered the majority of commonly used Dutch swear words, including the ones you should never use, but there are two remaining swear words that you should absolutely know about: “tokkie” and “wappie.”

Every country has labels for people who lack sophistication and manners. Think of hillbillies in America, bogans in Australia, and chavs in the UK. A few decades ago, the Dutch equivalent was “aso” (plural: aso’s), an abbreviation of “asociaal” (antisocial).

However, in 2003, a neighbor dispute in Amsterdam escalated to such an extent that it got the attention of the media. The local housing association decided to evict one of the families, and a TV channel decided to make a six-part documentary about them. The mom’s last name was Tokkie, which would soon be used to refer to the whole family, and this documentary and subsequent media coverage established the “Tokkies” as the most antisocial family in the entire country.

As a result, “tokkie” became a synonym for “aso.” Everyone who behaved in an antisocial manner was suddenly called a “tokkie.” And much to the disappointment of other people with the same last name, it never fell out of use. Obnoxious, unsophisticated people are being called “tokkies” to this very day.

The original “Tokkies”

“Wappie,” on the other hand, is not a family name, but it’s an equally important word. This word gained popularity in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to an abundance of unfounded conspiracy theories. However, the Dutch word for conspiracy theorist, “complotdenker,” didn’t sound as silly as many Dutch people considered the conspiracy theorists to be. So, a new word was needed. That word became “wappie.”

In a very short time, “wappie” became the go-to insult for anyone who, as the dictionary put it, “is not in their right mind and has bizarre, non-factual views on a particular issue.” That “particular issue” started out as COVID-19, but the use of the word is definitely not limited to that. And since conspiracy theorists don’t seem to be going anywhere, the word “wappie” is likely here to stay.

Can you swear on Dutch TV?

Now you know most of the common swear words Dutch people use in person and online, but you might still be wondering about Dutch television. Can you swear on Dutch TV?

Yes, you can swear on Dutch TV. Bleeping out swear words has never been a custom in the Netherlands. Of course, channels keep their target audiences in mind, so the number of swear words differs greatly between shows, but there are no laws holding them back. Even government-funded TV channels allow swearing.

In fact, when the Teletubbies came out in the late 1990s, the government-funded TV channel BNN aired a parody called “Teringtubbies” (Tuberculosis Tubbies). It contained lots of profanity. And one of the “Teringtubbies” was topless, which was also uncensored.