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When I first became interested in genealogy and started asking my grandparents about their parents and grandparents, they both described my grandmother's grandmother as "Dutchy". I initially thought I had stumbled on a family connection to the Netherlands that I never knew existed but then it became clear they were talking about her personality or mannerisms. The sense I got was that they both were very fond of her, but...(she was "Dutchy").

Both of my grandparents were born in 1914 and this great-great grandmother died in 1933, so I'm wondering if this was an expression from their youth (in the Midwest U.S.). I did a Google search and there are several expressions that incorporate the word Dutch, usually in a pejorative sense. I found this page, which includes the expression "His dutch is up," meaning dander/temper. Is anyone else familiar with this usage?

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    Is it possible that Dutchy is a misunderstanding or mondegreen (on your part or your grandparents') for touchy? Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 14:33
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    The onlineslang dictionary shows "dutchy/duchy" : - Usage-- You look dutchy. Means you look like a dutchess. In other words you look nice or even classy.
    – user66974
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 14:36
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    @JOSH It's dutchess that's the problem. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:01
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    Never heard that before. Maybe you heard 'dodgy' (currently a Britishism)? Or maybe 'douchy' (very new US slang)? Making an adjective out of another word (by adding -y) is common nowadays but I thought was a very new thing. Also the adjective already would be 'Dutch' is that were meant. Lots of possibilities, especially given that no one has claimed evidence for it yet for a few generations back.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:16
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    Yeah, I didn't get the impression that it was extremely pejorative. It was a quality that definitely stood out, though.
    – McCaverty
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:21

13 Answers 13

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I am of German heritage and raised in the Midwest. My parents and grandparents used the term dutchy to describe a woman who dressed in and old-fashioned, overly conservative, unflattering manner. They didn't use the term specifically to describe a personality trait, but it could apply to a stern, conservative, old-fashioned person.

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The Urban Dictionary online has a number of ideas, but I suspect the OED gets closest

Frequency (in current use): Etymology: < Dutch adj., n.1, and adv. + -y suffix1. Dutch-like. 1893 J. H. Ross in King's Business (New Haven, Connecticut) 127 The faces [in Rembrandt's Scripture pictures] are not ideal but Dutchy.

My suspicion is that this was a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth American expression for a person of Dutch, or possibly German descent, perhaps one who didn't speak English entirely fluently.

Did your great, great grandmother have Dutch or German connections?

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  • I haven't been able to trace her family back very far, but both her parents were born in Indiana. And when I misunderstood my grandparents to mean she was from Holland, they corrected me. So I'm inclined to think it's just a saying or an expression about how she was rather than an accent or regional way of speaking.
    – McCaverty
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:47
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From my research, I have found this definition for Dutchy that I think suits your situation:

adjective

  • Difficult to understand, slurred, imprecisely articulated (of one's speech) (dialect: regional to rural Central New York State)

He is so dutchy that we can hardly understand him.

I would assume this has a slight negative connotation so would fit into your impression that "they both were very fond of her, but...(she was Dutchy)"

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  • If I had to replace Dutchy with another adjective, based on the sense of how it was said, I would be inclined to use words that describe a person's personality or habits, like stern or aloof or frugal or sharp-tongued.
    – McCaverty
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:21
  • Or imprecisely articulate? That is the only adjective definition I have been able to come up with. Without actually asking your grandparents, it may be hard to know exactly how they meant it.
    – Hank
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:23
  • I appreciate the effort, Hank! I wish I could ask them or that I had pressed them further to explain at the time. It was a large family gathering and I expect the subject got changed or some other distraction happened and I failed to follow up.
    – McCaverty
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:25
  • No problem at all! Maybe they were a little dutchy and you had trouble understanding them? haha
    – Hank
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:26
  • Lol - maybe so!
    – McCaverty
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 15:26
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When I wore badly matched or loud clothes as a child, my mother told me I looked Dutchy. I took it to mean rather outlandish.

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In reference to the term "Dutchy" - I heard it used when a person is extremely frugal, to the point they would do something the old way that was harder than to update which might cost money. Everything was very simple including clothing. Also well worn to make sure they got their monies worth out of a shirt, etc. Nothing in reference to personality, etc - just very thrifty.

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    Could you perhaps cite a source for this view that would substantiate your answer? Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 23:20
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I know it's been a while since this thread was last posted on, but my mother who was from the midwest used the term "dutchy" to describe slurred speech. So you would be dutchy if you were partially deaf, or had just gotten your mouth numbed at the dentist office.

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  • A new and relevant answer to an old question is always delightful to see. Bear in mind that Stack Exchange answers are “right” answers. Anecdotes can be useful, but they are usually not sufficient on their own to show that an answer is right. An answer should include explanation, context, and supporting facts. For example, you could offer peer-reviewed evidence, such as the definition from a good online dictionary. This is what makes answers useful – to the asker, and to future visitors.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 15:37
  • See: “Real questions have answers, not items or ideas or opinions”.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 15:38
  • @MetaEd The post you link is almost entirely about what sort of questions we should accept on SE. Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 14:00
  • @DavidRicherby It is good guidance on how to ask questions that have real answers, but that means it is also good guidance on what a real answer is.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 15:48
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My ultra-modern German mother used the term interchangeably with “kitschy.” It was not flattering. She thought her old fashioned mother-in-law’s floral, knickknack laden decorating was DUTCHY!

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    Is "Dutchy" a German word then? How old is your modern mother? Does she still live in Germany? Are you German/British/American (which state)? These are all important details that makes your answer more credible.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 17:47
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    @Mari-LouA Nowadays we associate "Dutch" with the Netherlands, but clearly its origin is "Deutsch". How does your Italian family refer informally to Germanic people? There has, after all, been a long association - Habsburgs etc.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 5:50
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My 93 year old mother was from Wisconsin. Her grandparents were German but I thought it was a midwestern expression. I never ever heard it used as a slur or in a derogatory way about a person, just in describing a style of clothing on a baby. A cute baby in an old fashioned style or print or dressed like an adult man with a bow tie or plaids, for example could be a little dutchy. Clothing a little too bright, too pattered, or fussy looking could be dutchy. It is hard to describe in words but it was a discriptive term about the style of clothing.

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My grandmother, who grew up in Iowa and whose grandparents immigrated from Germany, described her cousins as “dutchy.” When I asked her to clarify what she meant, she said they were not popular or stylish.

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My father, born in Central Ks, in 1914 used the phrase to mean mentally dull, hard to understand and just old fashioned and stubborn. He was Scott-Irish and used it as a whispered insult of men of his age and of German descent [many of our farmland neighbors around Hudson, Ks settlement]

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Dutchy - of or resembling something or someone of Dutch origin; like a dutchman/woman.

In the 17th century, when Britain was at war with the Dutch, Dutch was a common pejorative adjective:

Dutch wife - a bolster

Dutch uncle - not avuncular

Dutch courage - courage derived from being drunk

Dutch treat - you pay for it yourself.

Dutch Foil - a cheap imitation of gold leaf

Dutch nightingale - a frog

Double Dutch - gibberish

etc.

(shortened meanings from OED)

Thus we have Dutchy - tacky; of poor quality or taste; crude, unsophisticated, etc.

Another possibility is given at The New Netherlands Institute (also repeating much of the above)

DUTCH: Bad temper, irascibility. “To get one’s Dutch up” is to get angry, to lose one’s temper."

So we would have "bad tempered".

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Like many above, my Wisconsin-born parents 1912 and 1913 (father of German descent and mother French-Canadian) used dutchy to denote something that was tacky or out of fashion, such as a dress with the wrong hem length was "dutchy," or the color of a house was dutchy. But a friend from New York also grew up with this expression, so it's not strictly midwestern.

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My grandmother was born in Topeka KS in 1920. She used this term about herself when she was having difficulty trying to annunciate or find the precise words she wanted to use. She never used it in reference to appearance or personality traits.

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