The origin of the phrase "Dutch Act"?

divingbell

New Member
Chinese(Mandarin)
First off, I know that there is history issue regarding the relationship between British and Dutch dating back to 17 or 16 century something, which results in couples of phrases like "Go Dutch/Dutch treat", "Dutch uncle", etc.

As for "Dutch Act", I know basically it means "to commit suicide", and probably it won't be seen very often these days since apparently it's insulting and inappropriate.

Does anyone know a more specific explanation of the origin of the phrase? Does it have anything to do with Van Gogh, the painter, since he's one of the most well-known Dutch who committed suicide..

BTW Just out of curiosity, definitely no offense.

Many thanks!
 
  • mplsray

    Senior Member
    The following is from the Oxford English Dictionary entry for Dutch:



    [B.] 4. Slang phrases (orig. U.S.): (a) in Dutch, in disfavour, disgrace, or trouble; (b) to do a (or the) Dutch (act), to desert, escape, run away; also, to commit suicide.

    1904 H. HAPGOOD Autobiogr. of Thief vi. 112 A week later Dal was found dead in his cell, and I believe he did the Dutch act (suicide)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Thank you, divingbell - you've taught me something about my language:) I'd never come across the term "Dutch act" before....

    Mplsray has given the OED definition; the only thing I can add is that the OED puts "Dutch act" under this general definition of Dutch
    4. Characteristic of or attributed to the Dutch; often with an opprobrious or derisive application, largely due to the rivalry and enmity between the English and Dutch in the 17th c.
    Often with allusion to the drinking habits ascribed to the ‘Dutch’; also to the broad heavy figures attributed to the Netherlanders, or to their flat-bottomed vessels. Sometimes little more than = foreign, un-English.

    It looks, then as though it doesn't have anything specifically to do with Van Gogh, but is, rather, simply an example of "Dutch" used insultingly because of past rivalry between England and the Netherlands.
     

    divingbell

    New Member
    Chinese(Mandarin)
    Thank you, divingbell - you've taught me something about my language:) I'd never come across the term "Dutch act" before....

    Mplsray has given the OED definition; the only thing I can add is that the OED puts "Dutch act" under this general definition of Dutch

    It looks, then as though it doesn't have anything specifically to do with Van Gogh, but is, rather, simply an example of "Dutch" used insultingly because of past rivalry between England and the Netherlands.

    I see.. So it's just a general impression then. :rolleyes:

    Thanks a lot!
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    There is a credible and researched answer at "Beerhistory.com" and this fits in with the timeline of the first recorded written use.

    THE DUTCH ACT. By Donald Roussin & Kevin Kious
    Suicides by prominent St. Louis German-Americans, which included a number of brewers, became so notorious that their affliction became known as the "Dutch Act." The phrase was coined by the St. Louis Police Department who had to investigate all the untimely deaths. Four members of the Lemp family took their own lives. William Lemp Sr. was the first. ... On February 13, 1904, he shot himself in the head.
    Daughter Elsa, son William Lemp Jr., and Charles Lemp also committed suicide. Other suicides notable in St. Louis brewing history include P. H. Nolan, Otto Stifel, and August Busch.

    The use of "Dutch" for German was a little old-fashioned but was accepted, the word "Dutch" being a corruption of "Deutsch" (the German of "German")
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    US English
    I've never heard of "the Dutch act". But I've never been to St. Louis.

    I've heard "dutch" meaning "deutsch" in the phrase "Pennsylvania Dutch", a term still used (I think) for the Amish.
     
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