On March 27, 2023, Wim de Bie passed away at the age of 83 and Dutch society was in mourning. He was part of the satirical comedy duo, Koot en Bie, alongside Kees Van Kooten. The two were responsible for many famous Dutch words and expressions that are now a part of daily life in the Netherlands. Ruud Hisgen from Direct Dutch Institute explains a few of these iconic expressions and how you can use them too.
Foto: Fotograaf Nijs, Jac. de / Anefo, Nationaal Archief, CC0
Kees van Kooten and Wim de Bie, or as they are more commonly known, Koot en Bie, were born-and-bred Hagenaars (people from The Hague) who made their peculiar, local dialect famous. They are well-known because of their creative use of the Dutch language, which has left many traces in many people’s vocabulary to this day.
Overall, Koot en Bie introduced over 50 expressions that have found their way into official Dutch dictionaries. Here are five of these expressions that are frequently used in the Netherlands.
1. Doemdenken (Doom mongering)
The 1980s were a gloomy decade in the Netherlands and on March 2, 1980, Koot en Bie performed a sketch in which they pretended to emigrate to New Zealand. Not because they were afraid of the looming Third World War and other possible catastrophes, but because they could not stand the atmosphere of doom and gloom in their home country anymore.
And so they coined the word doemdenken (doom mongering), which was inspired by the English word “doomsday”. The Van Dale dictionary defines the verb as: entertaining gloomy, pessimistic thoughts about the future (of humanity); downfall thinking.
So, whenever you hear a Dutch person say that there is something rotten in the state of their people and that everything will soon fall apart, you can interrupt them by stating, “Stop dat doemdenken”. You can also follow that with a quote from Prime Minister Mark Rutte: “Nederland is een gaaf land. (The Netherlands is a fabulous land.)”
2. De regelneef (Control freak or organiser)
The regelneef (control freak) character appeared in Koot en Bie’s show of the Simplisties Verbond (Simplistic Alliance) on April 28, 1977. Neef is the word for cousin, and regel has its origin in the verb regelen, which means to regulate or control. Thus, you get regelneef, literally the term “regulating cousin”.
In the show, an unemployed character can be seen counting paper clips. According to the box, it should contain around a hundred paperclips but the regelneef only counts 91. This prompts him to write a furious letter to the paperclip company.
A better translation for regelneef, perhaps, is control freak. You’ll hear regelneef in many daily conversations nowadays, which isn’t any wonder because this small gaaf country has an abundance of rules and regulations which – some frustrated Nederlanders feel – should be checked. These people have therefore appointed themselves as regelneef.
3. Krasse Knarren (Spry, old geezers)
In 1993, Koot en Bie introduced a new satirical programme for senior citizens which they called Krasse Knarren (Spry, old geezers). The title refers to older people who refuse to retire because they still feel too vital and dynamic to be sitting on the couch all day – or as the Dutch like to say, “Achter de geraniums zitten (sitting behind the geraniums)”.
Since the 1950s, the average life expectancy has increased quite a bit. In 1950, it was 70,3 years for men and 72,6 years for women. In 2021, life expectancy at birth was 79,7 years for males and 83,0 years for females. Because there is an abundance of Krasse Knarren in the Netherlands, the shape and nature of society is changing. Maybe people should call the Netherlands Krasse Knarrenland in the future.
4. De oudere jongere (Elderly youngsters)
In 1985, Bie played the role of Robbie Kerkhof, a hyperactive 36-year-old who refuses to grow up. Together with his friend, Koos Koets (played by Koot), they decide to found a new organisation of activities for “elderly youngsters”. Since then, the Dutch call people over the age of 25 who act and behave like adolescents oudere jongeren.
5. De vrije jongens (Free boys)
In 1980, Koot en Bie played the characters Jacobse and Van Es, who were the founders of a new satirical political party, called De Tegenpartij (The Opposition Party). The slogan of the party was, ”Geen gezeik, iedereen rijk” (No bullshit, everyone rich). This new party was meant for, and run by, so-called de vrije jongens (literally: the free boys). Jacobse and Van Es were “wheeler-dealers”, who are petty criminals who pretend to be independent entrepreneurs but who absolutely do not want to be bothered by rules and laws.
Within a short time, De Tegenpartij became so popular that many people started to take their satire seriously – and alarmingly so. As a result, in May, 1981, Koot en Bie decided to end their Tegenpartij with a shocking finale, Jacobse and Van Es were shot at Het Binnenhof (Dutch Parliament).
Learn about Dutch history with Koot en Bie
Koot en Bie identified social trends in their satirical comedy that later on materialised in Dutch political parties that are still active to this day.
If you’re interested in the Dutch history of the second half of the 20th century, you should pay attention to the roles that Wim de Bie and Kees van Kooten played in their television shows. Many of their sketches can be viewed on YouTube and though some of them are dated, most of them are still very funny. By studying their material, you can learn not only more about Dutch society but also about the Dutch language.
This article was written for and published on I am Expat on 09 May 2023