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I was wondering if anyone could shed some more definite light on the origin of the phrase 'Dutch Courage.'

I have found two, almost certainly apocryphal, origins:

1: From the Thirty Years War in the 17th Century, where British soldiers drank a Dutch Gin for it's warming/calming effects.2

and

2: Deriving "from the disparaging idea that Johnny Foreigner, whether sailing up the Medway or facing down the locals in the East Indies, needed a few drinks before a fight."3

However, the phrase only seems to begin appearing in print from the mid- to late-19th Century - some 200 years after its supposed coinage. Which makes me suspect there is another story behind this.

Unfortunately, as with many popular folk etymologies they swamp any other potential sources, so I look to EL&U for some help.

  • I'm not sure you need to look for some specific reason why dutch courage took hold. There are many other usages (dutch auction, dutch uncle, double dutch, dutch wife) where the (often somewhat derogatory, presumably on account of national rivalry) term simply means something along the lines of not the real thing. – FumbleFingers Jan 26 '16 at 17:30
  • @FumbleFingers I was not previously aware of the usage of "dutch" as a rough synonym for "ersatz", but it appears to check out. Etymonline.com says it's been in use since the 1600's as a "pejorative label pinned by English speakers on almost anything they regard as inferior, irregular, or contrary to 'normal' (i.e., their own) practice". – Doug Warren Jan 26 '16 at 18:50
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Dutch courage:

  • False courage acquired by drinking liquor, as in He had a quick drink to give him Dutch courage. This idiom alludes to the reputed heavy drinking of the Dutch, and was first referred to in Edmund Waller's Instructions to a Painter (1665):

    • The Dutch their wine, and all their brandy lose, Disarm'd of that from which their courage grows.”.

(The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary)

The following source cites two possible origins, but the "gin" related one appear to support the above assumption:

  • In many ways, the Dutch used to be Britain’s closest neighbours. From the rise of the United Provinces during the reign of Elizabeth I until the eclipse of the Netherlands as a major power in the Napoleonic wars, they were sometimes enemies but more usually co-religionist allies, important trading partners and occasional colonial rivals. And, of course a Dutchman, William, became king of England in 1689.

  • These connections are evident in our language: slang dictionaries are full of expressions such as ‘going Dutch’, ‘Dutch auction’ and ‘Dutch uncle’.

‘Dutch courage’ has two possible origins:

  • The first derives from the disparaging idea that Johnny Foreigner, whether sailing up the Medway or facing down the locals in the East Indies, needed a few drinks before a fight.

  • The second theory relates more directly to the use of a specific drink – gin – to bolster one’s courage.

  • Gin in its modern form was reputedly invented by the Dutch physician Franz de le Boë (Franciscus Sylvius) in the 17th century. British troops fighting Louis XIV alongside their allies in the Low Countries appreciated the calming effects of Jenever (Dutch gin) before heading into battle. Cheap gin was widely available in London by the early 18th century.

  • Whether or not it specifically referred to gin, ‘Dutch courage’ as an English colloquialism tended to mean using spirits, not just beer, to stiffen resolve.

(www.historyextra.com)

  • When I've heard "Dutch courage", I've always pictured liquor, and specifically liquor which was consumed covertly, usually gin or brandy. I didn't realize it was more general than that. – Josh Rumbut Jan 27 '16 at 18:18

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