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Talk Like A Dutch Uncle

Posted by Admin on September 1, 2011

To talk like a Dutch uncle is another interesting expression. In Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable” the use of the phrase “talk like an uncle” meant that one was being given a severe reproof since an Uncle’s rebuke was something to be respected.  This is evidence by the Latin classics onwards.  Since the rivalry between England and Holland had created the situation where anything Dutch was seen as something hateful, a “Dutch uncle” was one whose comments were to be respected while being nonetheless more strict and caustic than those of an uncle from other countries.

American comedian Jimmy Durante was known for asking, “Who do you think you are: my Dutch uncle?

On July 2009, the Public Health Alert published Volume 4, Issue 7 of its magazine.  Its mission is to investigate lyme disease and chronic illnesses in the USA according to its banner.  In this edition, the cover story was written by Scott Forsgren who interviewed Dr. Garth Nicolson, PhD, professor at the University of Texas in Houston and an instructor at Baylor College of Medicine.  In the course of the interview, Dr. Nicolson was quoted as saying:

I always felt the internet would help humanity learn how to live better, naturally.  As more consumers demand metal-free dentistry, this will create the change in the profession.  WHen I started 35 years ago, I had to talk like a Dutch uncle to get people to remove mercury fillings and root canals — it was tough.

Cutter Laboratories 1897- 1972: A Dual Trust” was a book that took more than one volume to tell the story of the founder of Cutter Laboratories.  Volume I was entitled, “Robert Kennedy Cutter: Building And Guiding A Family Pharmaceutical Firm” published in 1971.  A number of taped interviews were transcribed for this volume, and in one of the passages, Robert Cutter says:

And I recall that I wanted to have a job done by a printer whom I felt that for that particular type of printing would do a better job than Brent would do. And I had to talk like a Dutch uncle because my aunt kept reminding me of the many years that Mr. Brent had carried the laboratories when he didn’t get paid promptly at all.

Time Magazine published a news story on December 1, 1947 that dealt with voluntary health insurance.  It claimed that President Roosevelt had been shocked to learn that 4 million men had been rejected as 4Fs.  The article was entitled, “Medicine: Dutch-Uncle Talk” and the opening paragraph stated:

Elder Statesman Bernard M. Baruch is a doctor’s son. In the last few years, vigorous, health-minded Bernie Baruch has given millions for the advancement of medical education and research. Last week he talked like a Dutch uncle to a Manhattan gathering of 600 medicos and hospital administrators. It is high time, he said, that doctors give up their stiff-necked opposition to compulsory health insurance.

In the book “Cleek: The Man Of The Forty Faces” written by Brooklyn born American actor and author, Thomas W. Hanshew (1857 – 1914) published in 1912,  readers find the following in Chapter 3:

“Share the blame of my lateness with me, Mr. Narkom,” said Cleek as he tossed aside his hat and threw the fag-end of his cigarette through the open window. “You merely said ‘tea-time,’ not any particular hour; and I improved the opportunity to take another spin up the river and to talk like a Dutch uncle to a certain young man whom I shall introduce to your notice in due time. It isn’t often that duty calls me to a little Eden like this. The air is like balm to-day; and the river — oh, the river is a sheer delight.”

Thomas W. Hanshew wrote over 150 novels over the span of his life, many of which were under the pen name Charlotte May Kingsley.

The New York Times published a quick note in their January 9, 1881 edition that explained the meaning of the expression and referenced Brewers’ “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.”

Martim de Albuquerque published a comment in “Notes and Queries” in 1853 that in some parts of America, when a person was determined to give another a regular lecture, he was often be heard to say he wanted to “talk like a Dutch uncle.”  Since this was a common expression in 1853 in America, it most assuredly is an expression that came to America from England.

But long before America, in February 1563,  Huguenot Jean de Mere assassinated the Catholic Duc de Guise which led to de Mere being publicly executed.  It is alleged that he blamed his actions on “the pressures and sorrows by my Dutch uncle bestowed.”  While Idiomation was unable to find proof that this was indeed what Jean de Mere actually said while having proof that the expression was common in America in 1853, Idiomation feels safe in hazarding a guess that the expression can be pinned to at least one generation before Martim de Albequerque‘s writings, putting it somewhere around 1825.

6 Responses to “Talk Like A Dutch Uncle”

  1. For some reason, I am not completely comfortable with the explanation of what “Dutch Uncle” means. 75 years ago when I was a young writer, my first novel was accepted but the WWII closed the publisher due to the shortage of ink and book paper. Since I had time to improve the book, I submitted the manuscript to the Dutch Uncle Service via a delightful magazine called THE WRITER in Boston. I believe, that the word “hateful” in today’s use of the phrase is no longer proper. I occasionally counsel with young people who need some straight talk which their own parents could not “get away with’! In my 77 years in business, I have advised promising, talented young people that certain habits, words, body language and attitudes are doing them harm and they should try to eliminate such practices. That was straight talk, offered in their interest! There was no element of hatefulness in those discussion. Being someone’s Dutch UNCLE is a good thing in my judgement!

  2. […] an article about the usage of Dutch uncle, please click here, for an advertisement that shows us how this phrase is used in the business world, please click […]

  3. […] column published in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on April 9, 1962 ran a letter from a writer named, Dutch Uncle.   The problem was that the businessman had hired the daughter of a friend to work for him in […]

  4. Philip Hudson said

    The only meaning of the phrase “Dutch uncle” that I have ever heard is the same as “sugar daddy”.

  5. […] His mother was Ada Brink Allison, sister of my great-grandmother Mary Brink Anderson and also of Sarah Jane Brink Anderson, another great-grand aunt. I talked a bit about the Dutch Aunts and my great-grandmother–descended from Brink and Middaugh–in my discussion of Mary Brink Anderson. (I’m sure that Dutch aunts are not stern and lecturing like Dutch Uncles!) […]

    • Marion said

      Actually, a sentence from the Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe, seem to suggest another meaning of “Dutch uncle” : “Feeling curious and sympathetic, he walked over to the boy and said in the warmest Dutch-uncle manner possible, ‘Whaddaya reading?'” In this context, it can’t have anything to do with sternness or a rebuke. Looking for an explanation to this use so opposite to the common one, I stumbled on the following : “A remarkable term in the English language to describe a person inclined to preaching is ‘a Dutch uncle’. “Talk to one like a Dutch uncle”, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is to “lecture him paternally”, and this expression has been part of the English idiom at least since the early nineteenth century. In my own research the Dutch, accompanied by the Scandinavian, produced extreme scores in two respects: strongly individualistic, that is, inclined to let individual interests and individual opinions prevail, and at the same time strongly feminine, that is caring for others, with a desire to help the weak and to maintain warm personal relationship with others. This is the profile of the Preacher who honestly wants to help others, but in his way because he alone knows where the other persons’ best interests lie.” (B. Czarniawska-Joerges & P. de Monthoux, Good Novels, Better Management: Reading Organizational Realities in Fiction, Routledge, 2005, page 146). This explanation of the idiom makes it open to use and interpretation, IMHO.

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