Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jun 12 01:28:26 UTC 2006

>In stagecraft "dutchman" is a strip of cloth soaked in glue or size
>that is used to cover up something on the set that needs
>covering---not necessarily a defect, very frequently what is covered
>is simply the join between two separate stage pieces.  There is also
>the verb "to dutchman" meaning to apply such a strip of cloth.  I
>don't recall every having heard the noun used in the plural; it was
>more of a mass noun.
>I have always assumed that the original usage was an ethnic slur on the Dutch.
>In a book published in 1941, which I can't find in my library at the
>moment, regarding modifications to a sailing ship: "If they haven't
>taken the speed out of that beauty, then I'm a Dutchman". (This
>could easily have been a nonce usage.)

Why a nonce usage, if "I'm a dutchman if..." was standard enough in
the Victorian era to rate an entry in Farmer & Henley?  More likely a
relic of a wider earlier usage.  Google seems to suggest it isn't all
that archaic, perhaps especially in England.  There are even a number
of instances of "If p, (then) I'm a Dutchman's uncle", where I'd use
"...I'm a monkey's uncle", to convey the arrant falsity of p (e.g. of
Lord of the Rings, "If it doesn't win an Oscar, I'm a Dutchman's

>Isn't there a "Dutch boy" brand of paint?

Indeed.  And when Rik Smits, a 7'4" center from Holland who played
for the Indiana Pacers in the 90's, went inside (in the area called
"the paint") to score or get a rebound, the sportscasters would refer
to "Dutch boy in the paint".


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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