My classes are online so like all students I’m home all day and listen to tidbits of what’s being said on TV. Last week I heard the word “Dutch Auction” on CNBC, and I was intrigued by the inclusion of the word Dutch – and researching this took me down quite an interesting path of discovery. Consider the number of additional words that have the “Dutch” qualification: Dutch treat, Double Dutch, to go Dutch, Flying Dutchman are some of the more common ones.
A Dutch Auction, unlike a regular auction, is one in which the auctioneer starts the auction at a high price, and the prices come down instead of going. This was the kind of auction first used in the tulip markets in the Netherlands – hence Dutch Auction
In a disorganized, fresh flower market, where time was of the essence, the auctioneers wanted the trading to be quick. They would start the auction at an artificially high price, which they would bring down in increments until they got their first bid – at which time the auction would end – and the flowers would be sold at that bid price. This form of auction is more beneficial to sellers (than buyers) because they could get higher prices than in a regular auction.
Dutch Auctions are most often used nowadays by the US Government when selling Treasury Bills and Notes – that’s probably what they were discussing on CNBC when I heard the term !!
What about the other words? Many of these have an equally interesting origin. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch and the English were the two great seafaring empires -competing with each other for control over maritime routes and colonies – waging as many as three wars over 20 years. One can imagine that the English sailors would have found numerous ways to insult their Dutch counterparts by qualifying all cowardly, low class actions as Dutch. And this was exactly how a number of these words entered the English dictionary.
Going Dutch, which now means to split a bill at a restaurant, would have started as a reference to Dutch frugality or stinginess. Similarly, Dutch Party is when everyone brings a dish to the host’s house, and a Dutch treat is even worse – when you get invited out to a restaurant for a treat and a bill is sprung upon you at the last minute.
Double Dutch is another interesting term for a jump rope game which has origins in New York which had a lot of Dutch immigrants. It also means nonsense or something that makes no sense to the listener, as in “it’s all double Dutch to me” – because the English generally found the Dutch language incomprehensible.
Sometimes Dutch and Deutsch are confused – which is why Pennsylvania Dutch are called that instead of Pennsylvania Deutsch.