Medical expressions: ''He has a hole in his hand?!''

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“Een gat in zijn hand hebben,” “het komt voor bakker” and “de bloemetjes buiten zetten”: all these phrases might sound a bit weird for a non-Dutch person, but these are some proverbs that Dutch people use in daily life. So for you as a medical student, here are some proverbs explained which have a medical or anatomical twist to them. And hopefully, you can use them too.


‘’Hij heeft een gat in zijn hand’’

Literal translation: He has a hole in his hand

Explanation: If someone says that about another person, 99% of the time it does not mean that that person really has a hole in her or his hand. It means that a person cannot handle his or her money very well and spend way too much instead of saving up. A situation where this proverb is applicable, is for example when your lazy friend is spending too much money on ordering pizzas, instead of buying ingredients and cooking a much cheaper meal.


‘’Je kunt me de bout hachelen’’

Literal translation: You can eat my shit K2tnOgmXxYcqKJpFOg7yrIEBW5PXICQLy-B2WLBaYA8YSNNZ7Faqg58hpOzC-fRLm_mUIATGTKf2KsGVRTPsRUwOKdto46kjfz0BJNrUIueuUPBmmmV8AZDN8x1kNrkRx0qNsieJRONDTGfPuw

Explanation: People say this when they are really mad at someone. It is similar to saying ‘go to hell.’ A bit of background information: the proverb does not originate from Old Dutch, but from a secret language used by thieves and tramps. A situation where you can apply it, is if you are doing a group project and someone is not doing their job for the trillionth time, you might think that this person “me de bout kan hachelen.”


‘’Ik zie er geen been in’’

Literal translation: Not seeing any bone in it

Explanation: It means that it is no problem doing a particular task. For example, if Bakels is asking you to come to the front to draw a graph. When you actually know how to draw it, you can say this. But here is a warning: some people will take this phrase negatively. This is because it can sound as if you are fed up with, in this instance, the graph you have to draw.

The proverb originates according to het Uitdrukkingenwoordenboek van Van Dale from eating meat: if there are less bones, it is easier to eat.


‘’Hij breekt het hoofd over iets’’

Literal translation: He is breaking his head over something

Explanation: As you might suspect, it should not be taken literally. It means that someone is really trying to find the answer or solution to a very difficult question or problem. So if you are trying really hard to find out what the outcome of a statistical test mean even after watching all the statistical videos, you are actually “je hoofd aan het breken” over statistics.


‘’Van iemand de nieren proeven’’

Literal translation: tasting somebody’s kidneys

Explanation: This proverb might sound a bit gruesome, but it really means that you are trying to understand someone or you are trying to find out what someone’s worth is. The proverb originates from the Bible, where kidneys represented the conscience of a person. User’ ‘]s warning: if you say ‘I’m tasting his kidneys’ do expect a lot of head turning, because it is not a very commonly used proverb and it may sound very strange to people who’ve never heard it.


‘’Het ligt me zwaar op mijn maag’’

Literal translation: It is heavy on my stomach

Explanation: It means that something is bothering you. For example, when you have three weeks of study material that has to be done in one week and you are stressing about this, then the study material can ‘zwaar op de maag liggen’. The proverb is also used literally. For example, if you are eating with your housemate and you made a fatty dish. After eating it, your stomach might feel bloated. This can also be a situation where the food “zwaar op de maag ligt.”


‘’Iemand een oor aannaaien’’

Literal translation: Sewing an ear on someone

Explanation: It means that you are fooling or swindling someone. It is derived from the use of teachers to punish schoolchildren for their stupidity with donkey-ears. The children had to wear those donkey-ears at school.


‘’Haar op je tanden hebben’’yob4A11IglEuhkHZTr26-y70z5rjTx5mUCto-0vw5yiZreQCojwqL1YgAOcwnujT0vadF8ri9xoecX7kqi3kubZPsN9zv9MTq19BYvu6iiyxyJfMyvgWQpS3vPfxI3Kh3LjLZxJl6aGeCz7GfA

Literal translation: Having hair on your teeth

Explanation: This means that you are assertive and you can man up. The source of this proverb is from when people thought that having a lot of hair meant that that person had power. Having hair on places where it is practically impossible, such as on your teeth, must give great power to that person then. Yet, it is only used for people who are strong verbally, not physically. So you can tell to persons who are very assertive and are verbally strong: “jij hebt pas haar op je tanden!” But beware, it is not certain if they will appreciate the compliment.

‘’Dat is een rib uit mijn lijf!’’

Literal translation: That is a rib out of my body!

Explanation: People say this if they have to pay for something, which is in their eyes too expensive. Its origin is again in the Bible, where Eva was made out of a rib of Adam. For students it is quite a relatable proverb: paying tuition, college books, health insurance, rent. Especially when you are not working, paying this stuff would be a good situation where you could say: “Dat is een rib uit mijn lijf!”


‘’Van de hand in de tand leven’’

Literal translation: living from the hand in the tooth

Explanation: This means that you spend immediately the money you have earned or received from for example ol’ Uncle DUO: you do not care how you are going to survive for the whole month, but you just spend it on whatever you like. There is also a proverb which is similar to this one: “van hand tot tand leven’ (living from hand till tooth). However, this means that you do not have a lot money and you can only afford the essential things, like food and rent.


‘’Hij is gepokt en gemazeld’’

Literal translation: He is poxed and measled

Explanation: As you might know, chickenpox or measles are diseases that happen mainly in children. Therefore, if you are ‘poxed and measled’ it means that you have overcome these children diseases. This was the literal explanation, but it also means that someone is very experienced in his field of work. You could say this about for example a neurologist who worked for twenty years in the field of neurology: he is “gepokt en gemazeld.”