Skip to main content

Greene History Notes: ‘Cookies, Coleslaw and Stoops’

Two different styles of hay barrack. Note the winding jack in the picture on the left used to raise and lower the roof.
November 13, 2018 11:42 am Updated: November 13, 2018 11:46 am


I have been reading a book titled “Cookies, Coleslaw and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages” by Nicoline Van Dir Sijs. Until 1664 the Dutch had control of the Hudson Valley. Even when the British took over the Dutch continued to have a strong influence over religion and the language spoken. For instance, the 8th President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, was born in Kinderhook in 1782. His first language spoken at home was Dutch. I have always wondered if he spoke with a bit of an accent after he became President.

Van Dir Sijs has identified 246 loanwords in American English that did not originate from British English. She finds this unique because: “Right from the start, the Dutch formed a very small minority among the inhabitants of America — even in New Netherland there were people of many other nationalities and mother tongues in addition to the Hollanders. Nevertheless, this small group of Dutchman managed to exert a lasting influence on the American language and culture.”

Further she says the American linquist Charlton Laird claimed in 1972: “More words per capita have been borrowed into American English from [the] early Hollanders than from any other sort of non-English speakers.”

Van Dir Sijs says the largest number of loanwords from the Dutch to American English is in the area of foodstuffs. For instance, cookie, cruller, olykoek (similar to a dounut), pannicake and waffle all came by way of the Dutch. And, what chicken barbecue would be complete without coleslaw?

When it comes to liquor, brandy is a common choice. The author tells us it came from Dutch brandewijn. As the story goes “The discovery of brandy is probably attributable to a sixteenth-century Dutch shipmaster, who, before setting sail, concentrated wine with the intention of adding water immediately on reaching home port. However the concentrated drink was an immediate success and required no watering down.”

A few words in nature attributable to the Dutch include groundhog, pinkster (sometimes known as wild azalea), sap bush (more common known today as a sugar bush or a grove of maple trees), and sea bass. The derivation of the later is interesting. It came from the Dutch word zeebaars which is compounded from zee (sea) and baars (bass).

Some household items readers may be familiar with include: bake-oven (bakoven), bake-pan (bakpan), bed-pan (beddenpan), bed-spread (beddensprei or bedsprei), cuspidor (kwispedoor), and a wooden sawbuck (zaagbok). The latter is not to be confused with the American slang for the ten dollar bill although there is a connection. The Roman numeral for 10 is an “X” which is also the shape of a wooden sawbuck.

Some of the names adopted from the Dutch for natural features are also interesting, such as kill, clove, vly and hook. Greene County folks should be familiar with all of them. We have the Catskill, Kaaterkill, Vosenkill and Batavia Kill creeks. Kill comes from the Dutch word kil, meaning stream, creek, or channel. So, I guess the literal translation for the creek we know so well is actually Cats creak creak. Speculation on the derivation of Cats is something best left for another column.

As for clove (from kloof meaning ravine or valley), we have a couple in Greene County: Kaaterskill and Platte. The word vly may be a somewhat unfamiliar (a swamp or marsh) and is used less, but South of the Village of Catskill we have the Great Vly Wildlife Management Area on the Hudson.

And finally we have hook (derived from the Dutch word hoek, meaning “corner angle, nook, point of land”). Living in Coxsackie, almost every day I look directly across the Hudson River and view Newton Hook, originally known as Newton Hoek. At one time it had a huge ice house and a thriving community. A ferry connected the two places enabling people from both sides of the river to make train connections in Newton Hook.

I will close with a few miscellaneous words: hay barrack (hooiberg), bakery (bakkerij) and stoop as in front steps (stoep). Hay barrack may be an unfamiliar to many folks today, but it is very familiar to those that operate the 17th century Bronck Museum. Literally translated hooiberg it means “hay mountain, heap of hay.” Hay barracks were wooden structures with a roof and open sides for the storage of hay. They were used in Europe as well as the New World.

It would be a very long stretch to call myself a linguist, but at the same time I found this book very informative and an easy read.

Reach David Dorpfeld at