Your question is highly interesting. I will try to answer it in a most
complete and satisfying way:
- The roots of the words "Deutsch" and "Dutch"
Both "Deutsch" and "Dutch" are of the same origin. The oldest common
root is the Germanic noun "Thiot" (= nation, people), a term the
members of the various German tribes used already before the birth of
Christ to distinguish themselves from neighboring peoples, such as
Celts or Romans. "Thiot" was also the provenience of the Latin word
"Teutoni", which the Romans first used for a single German tribe and
later together with "Germani" for the entire people.
The Franks, a German tribe who had conquered large parts of the former
Roman province Gaul in the 5th-6th century, developed from "Thiot" the
adjective "theudisk", which meant "belonging to our own tribe, our
people". The opposite was "walhisk" which was most commonly used for
the non-Germanic subjects of the Frankish conquerors, the descendants
of the Roman population and the Romanized Gauls.
Under Charlemagne, Frankish king and Emperor (742-814), a Latinized
form of "theudisk" can first be found in written sources:
"theodiscus", which referred to the language. "Theodisca lingua" meant
the Germanic language of the common Frankish people to draw a
distinction to the clerics' Latin and, from the early 9th century,
also to the "rustica lingua romana", the oldest from of French with
its Latin roots.
In the eastern part of the Frankish Empire, roughly what is Germany
and the Netherlands today, "theudisk" and "theodiscus" slowly shifted
to the Old High German word "diutisc", as generic term for all German
tribal dialects spoken in the Eastern Frankish Realm. "Diutisc" is the
direct predecessor of both "Deutsch" and "Dutch". From the late 11th
century, "diutisc" was used not only in a linguistic sense but also to
charcacterize the common nationality of the speakers of the various
forms of German.
- The connection between Holland and the word "Dutch"
Since the inhabitants of the Netherlands are not Germans in a modern
sense, it might indeed seem surprising that in the English-speaking
world they are called "Dutch", which can be very easily recognized as
a form of "Deutsch", German. However, today's Netherlanders have not
always been a nation as today. In fact, they have the same Germanic
roots as the modern Northern Germans. Their language was Low German,
which was, in several variants, in use between the mouth of the Rhine
Rhine and the Baltic Sea.
The Netherlanders lived in the Frankish Realm and later in the
Roman-German Empire and were, though the Middle Ages, never regarded
something else than Germans, even by themselves. This relationship can
still be noticed today: Talking to a Dutchman is not at all a problem
for a Northern German who still speaks "Plattdeutsch", the old Low
When, in medieval times, Englishmen met Netherlanders, they in fact
met people who spoke "Deutsch" and called themselves the same. So when
the English called the Netherlanders "Dutch", it was absolutely
correct, from both sides.
- How Netherlanders became "Dutch" and Deutsche "Germans"
In the second half of the 16th century and in the first half of the
17th century, the Netherlands fought for their liberation from
bone-crushing Spanish rule. The country at the North Sea was part of
the Roman-German Empire, but this Empire was not monolithic but rather
a federation of many kingdoms, dukedoms, free cities, clerical realms,
etc. The Netherlands had come into the possession of the Habsburg
dynasty, and when this dynasty was split into the Spanish and the
Austrian lines, the Spanish Habsburgs got the Netherlands. It was an
unlucky relationship from the first day. The northern part of the
Netherlands had converted to Calvinist Protestantism, which made them
heretics in the eyes of the strictly Catholic Spanish. But then,
Spanish rule was bone-crushing in all parts of the country, even in
the regions that remained Catholic. The war for liberty lasted nearly
a century, a time span during which the Netherlanders developed the
awareness of being a nation of their own. The idea of being "Deutsch"
slowly vanished and was replaced by the new concept of being
"Netherlandish". This was a direct result of their common struggle.
Finally, the Spanish were to exhausted for continuing to fight thir
rebellous subjects. In 1609, peace was made. The southern, still
Catholic provinces remained with Spain. The northern regions gained
independance from Spanish rule as a republic. The newly formed
"General States" of the united Netherlandish provinces still remained
part of the Roman-German Empire, but this was only a legal formality.
In reality, they were no subjects of the German Emperor anymore.
Later, after the 30 Years War, they even gained full independance and
left the Empire in 1648, as part of the peace treaty of Osnabrück,
which ended the long war.
So the inhabitants of the "General States" were a new nation. But the
English did continue calling them "Dutch". Over centuries, the
Englishmen had had more contacts to Netherlanders than to other
Germans. "Dutch" had become a synonyme for those people, so they did
not invent a new name for the new nation, while the Germans got the
name they still have today in the English language.
It was not completely wrong: The Dutch did not have a name for their
national language then (which by the way started shifting away from
Low German after the seperation from the Empire). Still in the 19th
century, the Netherlanders called their own language "Duits", which is
today only used for the German language and nationality. And even in
the modern Dutch National Anthem, there is a line referring to the
first leader of the rebellion against the Spanish: "Wilhelmus van
Nassouwe ben ik van Duitsen bloed" - "I am William of Nassau, of
German blood". Which does not mean he was German in a modern sense,
but a native of the Netherland, not a Spaniard. So it was not a real
fauxpas for Englishmen to use "Dutch" in connection with
"Dutch" became a proper term in the English language, both as an
adjective and as a noun. And it came to America with the English
settlers (who met the Dutch as war enemies and colonial rivals in
So the Netherlanders kept the old term the English had used for them,
because they simplythe connections to them were older and tighter than
to other German peoples. But that did not make the "other" Germans
nameless: The ancient Latin term "Germanii" for the Germanic peoples
had never been completely forgotten. It had in the Middle Ages been
used by scholars and map-makers who used Latin for their works instead
of English. So the ancient "Germanii" became the new word for the
community of German peoples, individuals, etc.
Atlas zur Universalgeschichte, published by List, 1980. ISBN
Großer Historischer Weltatlas, published by Bayerischer
Schulbuch-Verlag, 1978. ISBN 3-7627-6005-5
Pejorative phrases referring to Dutch in English, by unknown author
GermanEnglishWords.com, by Robbin D. Knapp, 2002
Basra.de: Deutsch, by Dr. Basra, 2002
Search terms used:
dutch deutsch german duits
Hope this answers your question!