Research article
Issue: № 6 (54), 2024


The article describes ethnic idioms and their functioning in English. The research is aimed at differentiating national stereotypes in the English linguistic mentality basing on ethnic idioms and compiling an onomasiological portrait of representatives of different ethnic groups based on a comprehensive analysis of modern ethnic idioms used in English. The author studies ethnic idioms selected from the phraseological dictionaries and sites. The research is based on the conceptual analysis, definitional analysis, contextual analysis, etymological analysis, semantic analysis, and sociolinguistic analysis. In the course of the study, the author revealed the most common stereotypes for the Dutch, differentiated some meanings enabling to create an image of a contemporary Dutchman built up in the linguistic mentality of a typical Englishman. The results of the research may be applied in further studies in the spheres of sociolinguistics, ethnoconflictology, history, and political science.

1. Introduction

One of the crucial aspects in cross-cultural communication and international relations is taking into consideration a conceptual picture of the world with all its stereotypes

. They can be verbalized not only by words, but also by phraseological units (PU). Following Telia, we consider phraseological units as "... associated with cultural and national standards, stereotypes, mythological gems and, when used in speech, reproduce the mentality characteristic of a particular linguistic and cultural community"
. It is evident that "the nature of the meaning of a PU is closely connected with the background knowledge of a native speaker, with the practical experience of an individual, with the cultural and historical traditions of the people who speak this language"
. A PU condenses information about the national and cultural characteristics of a particular ethnic group, different stereotypes. V.A. Maslova defines a stereotype as "a fragment of a conceptual picture of the world", a "mental picture", a stable cultural and national idea of a subject or situation
. Stereotypes reflect both the national character and the peculiarities of the culture of this community, and the assessment of certain qualities of an object accepted in society, i.e. stereotypes are always national
. Phraseological units fix stereotypes that largely determine people's behavior, influence their consciousness and through the prism of which people perceive each other. Conceptualization establishes a connection between language units and concepts, demonstrating the representation of knowledge that can be comprehended in various cognitive contexts. The relevance of the article is determined by an anthropocentric approach to the study of language, considering it as a correlation of linguistic and semantic processes, which implies the study of semantic features along with conceptual structures underlying the phraseological units with ethnonyms. The aim of the article is to differentiate national stereotypes in the English linguistic mentality basing on ethnic idioms and compiling an onomasiological portrait of the Dutch. The research perspective represents the further study and comparison of ethnic idioms and nicknames of other nationalities in English and other languages.

Taking into consideration the fact, that idioms concentrate the background knowledge of a native speaker, the object of the study are ethnic idioms with a “Dutch” component, which are a source of cultural and historical information; the subject is conceptualization of different stereotypes at the phraseological level. The material for the study includes 257 units, compiled by the method of continuous scanning of the phraseological dictionaries.

According to the goals and objectives of the study aimed at compiling an onomasiological portrait of different ethnic groups in the modern English linguistic picture of the world, the following methods were used: definitional, conceptual, semantical, contextual, sociolinguistical and etymological analyses.

2. Main results

The complex analysis of the native speakers` ethnic idioms helps to find out the lingua-cultural peculiarities, historical events, a spotlight on culture and traditions, differentiating not only different shades of meanings but revealing national stereotypes


The British attitude to the Dutch is highly controversial; on the one hand, they recognized the Dutch achievement in different spheres such as shipbuilding and navy, if we take such an idiom as the Flying Dutchman which can be applied both to a legendary ship, whose ghostly wreckage is said to be sometimes seen in times of bad weather near the Cape of Good Hope, or to the captain of this ship, who must sail until Judgment Day

. In the following context, the first meaning is actualized: E.g., I swear, I saw the Flying Dutchman during that last storm. Every time I take out my boat, I'm reminded of the Flying Dutchman, and how he is doomed to sail the seas until kingdom come
. The next example is from J B. Shaw. ‘Three Plays for Puritans’, ‘Preface’ appeals to a legendary person implying the positive connotation: E.g., ...I have advertised myself so well that I find myself, whilst still in middle life, almost as legendary a person as the Flying Dutchman 

On the other hand, another idiom I’m a Dutchman if /unless, usually used in the end of the remark, demonstrates the absolute confidence in something “since the acceptance of the name “Dutchman” would be the ultimate disgrace”

. This example is from J. Lindsay, ‘Lost Birthright’: E.g., ‘I'll have a glass of wine,’ said Kit picking up a bottle and smelling it. ‘Good stuff, or I'm a Dutchman 
.’ Sometimes an idiom, written in a low case letter, a dutchman gains the meaning “a contrivance in a building construction”

The roots of sneering and haughty attitude to the Dutch go back to the seventeenth century, when the Dutch were commercial and military rivals. John Dryden wrote his tragedy Amboyna, it`s the name of the place located “in the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, where the British had been massacred by the Dutch in 1623”

. Another idiom the Dutch have taken Holland used ironically in the meaning “to discover nothing new”. An idiom in Dutch (with) means “to be in a pickle, to be in a deadlock” as in S. Lewis, ‘Main Street’,: E.g., I'm not going to do the outraged husband stunt. I like you and I respect you... But I think it's about time for you and Valborg to call a halt before you get in Dutch
. An idiom Dutch comfort (consolation) means “cold comfort” as in the following example: A: "I'm afraid all my furniture is quite ruined, but the whole house was nearly burnt down, so after all it might have been much worse." B: "That's a bit of Dutch comfort! But I suppose you're right to look on the bright side of things." In a Dutch auction, everything is done the wrong way round: the auctioneer starts at a highly inflated price, then slowly drops the figure until someone indicates they accept it – quite the opposite of the approved British way of starting at a low figure and allowing subsequent bids to push up the price
. Other stereotypes can be represented in the following idioms: Dutch metal or gold means “counterfeit gold”; Dutch widow/wife – a lady of the night”; double Dutch means “to talk gibberish, mumbo jumbo”, an incomprehensible speech. This example is from M. West, ‘The Ambassador’: E.g., He was edgy and uncomfortable, as if all his careful arithmetic had turned to double Dutch
. The contempt in which the English held the Dutch in the seventeenth century is evident in this idiom. It indicates that the Dutch language is unintelligible, nothing more than gibberish. The British consider the Dutch to be greedy judging by the idioms to go Dutch and Dutch treat in the meaning “to pay for yourself at the restaurant”, it can be illustrated in the context by the following example from J. O'Hara, ‘Butterfield 8’: E.g., ‘Will you have lunch with me?’ ‘Sure. But I don't want you to spend your money on me. We'll go Dutch treat

The consumption of alcohol is represented in the further idioms. Idioms Dutch headache and synonymous Dutch courage mean “hangover”, used in a derogatory sense. This example is from W. S. Maugham, ‘The Unattainable’: E.g., Caroline: "If you'd seen the amount of whisky he took! Dutch courage to propose to me." Dutch courage is an expression of contempt, implying, as it does, a bravery that is alcohol-induced.  The etymological analysis clarifies the origin of this idiom. The English won at the battle of Lowestoft during the Second Dutch War over the Dutch and Edmund Waller wrote showing what the English thought of the courage their adversaries displayed: The Dutch their wine and all their brandy lose/Disarm'd of that from which their courage grows

. Some more colorful idioms appeal to the same stereotype: Dutch bargain or deal implies courage found by drinking alcohol, cowardice.

3. Conclusion

In the end, it should be noted that the analysis of the ethnic idioms allowed us to differentiate certain stereotypes which create an onomasiological portrait of a typical Dutchman as a greedy commercial and military rival alcoholic with a gibberish language and imperial ambitions in the English linguistic picture of the world.

To sum it up, it should be mentioned that the study of stereotypes` with ethnic components helps to investigate different layers of culture and to differentiate additional conceptual features clarifying unique historico-cultural peculiarities. The phraseological layer of the language concentrates socio-cultural information, the explication of which allows you to get an idea not only about the life and customs of a certain ethnic group, but also about “love-hate” relations.

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