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Word of the Day: Dutje, nap

Where would we be without a bit of shut-eye, our forty winks, our snooze… every now and then? Without our naps most of us would be walking zombies. Especially after lunch, when the eye lids become heavier and heavier and the struggle to keep them open is lost. Then after a while you return from the black hole and you wake up, feeling weird at first (where am I? what am I doing here?), then guilty (how long have I been asleep? did I snore? has anyone noticed?) and eventually fresh and alert (here I am!).




The word DUTJE is one of those typical Dutch diminutives of which the non-diminutive form has been long forgotten. Think of ZOETJE (sweetner), ZOUTJE (salty biscuits), ZUURTJE or SNOEPJE (candy or sweet), DROPJE (piece of liquorice). Ever heard of EEN ZOET, ZOUT, ZUUR, SNOEP, DROP? No… well there you are. Nobody uses the word DUT anymore either. Or TUK, for that matter. TUK in its diminutive form TUKJE is a synonym of DUTJE. You can DOEN EEN DUTJE or EEN TUKJE.

DUTJE comes from the verb DUTTEN, meaning ‘snooze’ or ‘sleep’. Originally DUTTEN meant ‘drowse’ or ‘dose’. Traces of this medieval word can still be found in Modern English ‘dote’ which used to mean ‘be foolish’. ‘Dotage’, as you know, means to be ‘feeble-minded from age’. When people are getting on in years, DUTJES become part and parcel of the daily routine.

And birds… Taking a nap, EEN DUTJE DOEN, is also quite normal in the world of birds, both young and old. My good friend Arno, biologist and experienced bird watcher, tells me that some birds are able to sleep while in flight. Swifts, for instance, manage to have their forty winks while on the wing.

In the attached photo (taken by Arno) most ducks are asleep. Have you ever wondered why a sleeping duck keeps one eye open? Here is Arno’s answer. It’s because only half of its mind has dozed off. When a duck’s right eye is open its left hemisphere is at rest. And when its right eye is shut, its right hemisphere is awake. That way a duck can always be alert. Many hunting predators always haunt its surroundings, so a duck cannot afford to be completely asleep.

Arno’s mind is full of these interesting facts. The biggest animal in this world, he says, the whale cannot afford to be fully asleep either, because, being a breathing mammal, it would drown. So the two halves of its brains take turns in sleeping.

For more interesting facts and beautiful pictures go to His blogs are in Dutch but they make for interesting study material when you’re learning Dutch. If you really want to improve your mastery of Dutch, sleep on it (DOE EEN DUTJE) and when you wake up, go to and sign up for a course. Courses on all levels start nearly every month. A new exciting course is the Conversation Plus Course for advanced students, on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.