What Does Dutch Uncle Mean?

Dutch Uncle Meaning

Definition: A person who criticizes in a blunt manner.

This term is commonly found in the phrase to talk like a Dutch uncle.

Origin of Dutch Uncle

This expression originated around the early 1800s. An early example of the term can be found in Joseph C. Neal’s Charcoal Sketches from 1837.

Because it contains the word uncle, it usually refers to a man.

Sources speculate that this idiom developed out of a stereotype of the Dutch as being overly critical and rude. Usually this expression has a negative connotation, as in a person who is too severe. However, occasionally people use it in a more positive way, to mean a person who is very straightforward and candid.

Examples of Dutch Uncle

what is a dutch uncleIn the dialogue below, two siblings are talking about the family members who are going to be visiting them over the winter vacation.

Jordan: Did you hear that Uncle Lucas is coming to visit us for Christmas?

James: Oh, no. He’s the worst. Is he really coming all the way from Holland just to visit?

Jordan: Apparently, he is. He always tells me how ugly my hair and clothes are.

James: I know. And he always tells me that I wouldn’t be so stupid if I studied more.

Jordan: I just realized that he is both literally and figuratively a Dutch uncle, since he is our uncle from the Netherlands, and he is such a harsh critic.

dutch uncle idiomThis dialogue shows a couple discussing whom to invite to their 50th anniversary party.

Gertrude: I’d like to invite my friend Bernard.

John: I wouldn’t! Bernard is a terrible guest. All he’ll do is complain the whole time about the decor and the caterer.

Gertrude: It would be rude not to invite him.

John: I don’t want a Dutch uncle like him ruining our party.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about this idiom and similar ones.

  • Other insulting idioms from the era include some still in use, such as Double Dutch (for incomprehensible nonsense) and Dutch uncle (a harsh and unindulgent person), and many others that are obsolete, like Dutch widow (referring to a prostitute), Dutch gold (a cheap alloy resembling gold), Dutch concert (drunken uproar), and Dutch nightingale (a frog). –Telegraph

The second example is from an article about strategies when running for president.

  • Just think if someone had been able to play Dutch uncle (or aunt) in this case. After her Friday morning diagnosis, she could have skipped her Friday evening fund-raiser where she made her “basket of deplorables” comment. –Boston Globe


The term Dutch uncle means a person who is severe with constant judgments.