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Double Dutch

The term ‘Double Dutch’ in Australian language implies the speaker is not making sense. Where did this term originate?

Although Australia had many early Dutch emigrants in the 19th century, and their language very guttural and strange sounding to our ears, I suspect the term might have originated in the Music Halls, where the Dutch were often ridiculed in songs and humour. For example, Florie Forde, the great Melbourne-born international music hall star sang a song titled ‘The Van Dam Family’.


Florrie Forde sings ‘The Van Dam Family’


There is also a possibility the language came from Pennsylvania where many Dutch migrated. Whichever or whatever the case the term was well-known in Australia and used against people who were supposedly talking nonsense – either intentionally or unintentionally.

It belongs to secret languages like ‘Butcher’s speak’ where the second half of the word is transplanted to the front of the word etc. Butchers used to speak this secret language in all those years where they worked behind the counter in front of customers. It was common for butchers to make comment on a pretty woman entering the shop – she, of course, would be none the wiser.

School children, and in fact childish adults, enjoyed making secret languages and, of course, in the days before television, they had more time and situation to create such vehicles.

Here is a guide to speaking Double Dutch.

Review the alphabet. The letters of the alphabet follow the usual pattern of the words in Double Dutch

Look at an example. “Mary had a little lamb” becomes “Ma-va-gar-r-va-ga-ry ha-va-gad a-va-gay li-va-gi-t-va-gle la-va-gamb”

Mary: Ma-va-gar-r-va-ga-ry
Had: ha-va-gad
A : a-va-gay
Little: li-va-gi-t-va-gle
Lamb: la-va-game

Each Syllable is broken in two and “vag” is put in between it. The letter before the “vag” is also repeated after the “vag”.

Letters: Le-vag-et-te-vag-ers Note that the letter before the change in a syllable is also repeated.
sample one syllable word.
Take the first letter of the word (eg. hip) h is the first letter of the word, put uh- after it, making it h-uh, next put “tha” after it making it huh-the then you take the rest of the word, but put g in front of it g-ip, which make, h-uh the g-ip.

Here is a sample paragraph written in Double Dutch

Double Dutch: Bevageefovagore govagoivaging ovagon avagay bivagike rivagide, mavagayke suvagure tovago ovagoil yovagour chavagayin, avagaynd mavagayke suvagure yovagour whevageels avagayre sevageecure. Strevageetch yovagour bovagody thovagorvagaoughlevagely avagaynd drivagink plevageentyvagy ovagof wavagatevager. Mavagap ovagout yovagour rovagoute avagayhevageead ovagof tivagime sovago yovagou cavagayn evageeasivagily fivagind avagaypprovagoprivagiavagayte bivagike pavagayths avagaynd lavagaynes. Ivagit ivagis avagay govagood ivagidevageea tovago havagave revageeflevagectivagive mavagaytevageerivagial ovagon yovagour clovagothes avagayt avagayll tivagimes ivagin cavagase yovagou evageend uvagup rivagidivaging ivagin thevagee davagayrk. Bevagee avagaywavagayre ovagof cavagayrs avagayrovagound yovagou, avagaynd nevageevevageer livagistevageen tovago muvagusivagic whivagile rivagidivaging.

English: Before going on a bike ride, make sure to oil your chain, and make sure your wheels are secure. Stretch your body thoroughly and drink plenty of water. Map out your route ahead of time so you can easily find appropriate bike paths and lanes. It is a good idea to have reflective material on your clothing at all times in case you end up riding in the dark. Be aware of cars around you, and never listen to music while riding.

The term is also applied to schoolyard skipping games. Here is an astonishing You Tube clip showing American kids, male and female, presenting some extremely complex double dutch skipping.



Here are some Australian newspaper items related to Double Dutch language.


The Queenslander Aug 20 1898. Flotsam and Jetsam Column ‘Revenge’.

From Mr. Cooke’s verses in dialect we quote these lines on “Revenge”:

Ven ich and Gretchen married got,
Mein olt frient Dunckelsch warzenrath
He dou’d coom vere my veddln ees,
Becos I nefer gone by hees ! ‘
Alter, I get me efen yet.
Dot Dunckelschwarsenrath is deat.
don’d go by hees fooneral —nein !—
Becos he nefer gone by mine !
Flotsam and Jetsam.
The Queenslander. 15 Dec 1877
Flotsam and Jetsam.
“Per Bacco!”


Some more Tobacco.‘” JONATHAN DOWNES.

A DUTCHMAN, sitting by the Zuyder Zee,
Of man’s creation solved the mystery,
As, drinking deep and thinking ponderously.
He smoked Tobacco.

Said he, ” Van first in order of creation,
Happy, till woman comes to cause vexation;
Then Jove is sorry, and, for consolation,
Gives him Tobacco. ”

For Jove himself, when Juno, unaware,
Finds out his ‘little games’, and storms away
. And with his thunderbolts combs out his hair—
Ho lighto his ‘ ‘baccy.’ ”

So I ‘when lovely woman stoops to folly,’
And jilts me for another—am not jolly ;
But yet, ‘ a pill to purge my melancholy’
I find in’ ‘Baccy,’ ”

And when the tax-collector to my gates
Comes, t’ax for cash, and rate me for my rates;
ln short, when any trouble agitates,
I smoke Tobacco.

” Therefore, with that sage seaman I agree,
Who ask’d, when granted fairy wishes three. *
‘Baccy enough, some beer, and then, said he.
Some more!


Geelong Advertiser 3 June 1844
Germans were often associated with Dutch and they also experienced a German-Australian or Double German language. There is a large collection of this material, including many poems, under the section Joseph Lister.



Hurra! Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
We’re off unto Australia !
What shall we take to our new land ?
AII sorts of things from every hand!
Confederation protocols:
Heaps of tax and budget rolls;
A whole shipload of skins to fill
With proclamations just at will.
Or when to the south land we come,
The German will not feel at home .
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
We’re off unto Australia ?

So what shall we take to our new land ?
All sorts of things from every hand
A brave supply of corporals canes ;
Of livery suits a hundred wains..
Cockades, gay caps to fill a house, and
Armorial buttons a hundred thousand
Or when to the southern land we come
The German will not feel at home !
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
We’re off unto Australia.

What shall we take to our new land?
All sorts of things from every hand..
Chamberlain’s keys, a pile of sacks ;
Books of full blood-descents in packs;
Dog-chains and sword-chains by the ton,
Of order ribbons bales twenty-one.
Or when to the southern land we come
The German will not feel at home.
Hurra! Hurra! Hurra! Hurra!
We’re off unto Australia.

What shall we take to our new land?
All sorts of things from every hand;
Scullcaps, periwigs, old world airs;
Crutches, privileges. easy-chairs;
Councillor’s titles, private lists,
Nine hundred and ninety thousand chests.
Or when to the southern land we come T
The German will not feel at home.

Queensland Figaro 22 Nov 1884


Song of the German. Farmer.

I’m a German farmer, that. I am,
I don’t gare a cent for Dutton or Sam,
I makes my butter, cheese and jam,
Chust like a .German, farmer;
I drives to down, and dakes my beer,
Drives home again in right goot cheer,
And buts a lettle part each year,
Like any odder farmer.

For Sam may wriggle, twist about,
His dodges now are all found out,
And Billy Miles may grunt and shout,
And Dickson twirl his beard about,
‘ Nee-haw, ” Nee-haw,” ’tis Brookes’s bray,
He’s Sam’s lackey,
Hooroo for a German farmer.

I like to hear the news, you know,
How railways fare, and Land Bills go;
Read Zeitung, Punch, and Figaro .
Just like an odder farmer.
Sam wants to bring, poor Germans here,
To work for dwenty pounds a year,
But Gott in Himmel, never fear!
You trust a German farmer.

For Sam will wriggle to the end;
And Dutton Land Bill clauses mend,
And “Bully”‘ pose as poor man’s friend,
Ane Sherry dredges Northward send. .
“Nee-haw,” “Nee-haw,”.’tis Brookes’s bray,
He’s Sam’s lackey;
Hooroo for a German farmer. …


Warren Fahey acknowledges WikiHow in preparing this article.