• Expression: dat is andere koek (Dutch)
  • Meaning: lit. ‘that’s another cake’ – fig. ‘that’s a whole different ball game’

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal baffled reporters at a recent press conference by mysteriously describing a forthcoming game as ‘another cook’. Met with blank stares and a giggling press pack, Van Gaal cleared things up by explaining that, compared to United’s previous game, the forthcoming Chelsea match was ‘another biscuit’. Problem solved, then.

What did he mean?

Van Gaal was attempting a word-for-word translation* of the Dutch expression dat is andere koek (lit. ‘that’s another cake** – fig. ‘that’s something else entirely), getting confused along the way by the English/Dutch homophone cook/koek [kuk].

Literal translation and the joys of language learning

What Van Gaal was doing – transferring features of his native tongue to fill in gaps in another language – is known as ‘interference’ and is a coping strategy when operating outside your mother tongue.

On a more basic level, translating idioms literally and arriving at something daft is one of the many small joys of language learning and is, we here at TLOF feel, always worth celebrating.

Cruyff gets in on the act

Van Gaal is in good company: Johan Cruyff once produced the non-existent Spanish phrase en un momento dado, a literal translation of the Dutch op een gegeven moment (‘at a given moment’). Perhaps because of Cruyff’s stature in Spain, the phrase has passed into common use.

The assembled journalists are not the only ones to poke fun at the United manager, with his English skills routinely mocked in his native Holland. Apparently Van Gaal’s German is a similar source of fun but that, as the man himself would say, is a whole other biscuit.


And finally…

If Van Gaal had been born elsewhere, here are few other highly literal ways he might have tried to say ‘that’s another story’:

  • une autre paire de manches – ‘another pair of sleeves’ (French)
  • altă mâncare de peşte – ‘other fish food’ (Romanian)
  • eine ganz andere hausnummer – ‘a whole different house number’ (German)
  • são outros quinhentos – ‘that’s another five hundred’*** (Portuguese)

 


* (or, go on then, phraseological calque)

** Koek does not refer to a biscuit as the English would understand it, but rather a spiced cake similar to the German Kuchen, which has no direct equivalent in English. Koekje, the diminutive form of koek, does actually translate as biscuit and is the origin of the English word ‘cookie’.

*** the story goes that if you offended a nobleman on the Iberian peninsula in the 13th century, you were imposed a fine of 500 soldos. In the case of re-offence, that’s another 500.