A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PHRASE “IF YOU AIN’T DUTCH, YOU AIN’T MUCH”

7 Jul
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The windmill in Orange City, Iowa’s Windmill Park.

It’s a phrase frequently employed in media coverage of Dutch Americans. It appears on kitsch t-shirts and coffee mugs. Even Dutch King Willem Alexander said it a speech in Michigan in 2015.

“There’s an old expression here,” chuckles Gleaves Whitney, director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.” [1]

From the Netherlands, a journalist reports: “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much”, they still always say in west Michigan.[2]

The phrase is now well-known and well-worn. It strikes many as a form of chauvinism more than pride, and it’s got the right alliteration and meter to remain a classic. But it is vague enough to be useful in a variety of contexts, and so it can mean different things to different people.

But just how old is this phrase, and where did it come from? I’ve spent almost twenty years studying and writing about the Dutch in the United States, and I can’t remember ever encountering the phrase “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much” in any archival documents more than twenty years old.

So begins historian Michael Douma’s investigative essay on a phrase that, as he notes, I have heard here in Orange City. If you are interested in Michael’s full account, read his entire blog post here.

2 Responses to “A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PHRASE “IF YOU AIN’T DUTCH, YOU AIN’T MUCH””

  1. Laura July 7, 2019 at 2:59 pm #

    This caught my eye as I’ve been working on my genealogy blog. My great x7 grandfather came over from Holland in the mid 1600’s . They were Dutch Reformed.

    • Douglas Firth Anderson July 7, 2019 at 6:59 pm #

      Dutch ancestors, eh? Then you might be interested in AADAS–the Association for the Advancement of Dutch-American studies. Genealogists and historians are the bulk of the membership. Their website is https://dutch-americans.org/.

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