March 01, 2012

#03-016: The Dutch Boy and the Dike

white statue of a boy in wooden shoes and a cap seeming to climb a steep slope, with water gushing out from where he has placed his hand
Statue of the fictional Dutch boy

Note: We all know the famous Dutch legend of the Boy and the Dike--which was actually made up by an American woman!

Get Ready: In this lesson, Roberto calls Mark a "mythbuster," someone who teaches us that  some "commonly held beliefs" are not true. Do you know of some "myths" that have been "busted"?

Roberto and Mark are chatting in the Common Room of their dorm.

Roberto: Hey, Mark. Question?

Mark: Sure.

Roberto: My teacher told us today, "Keep your finger in the dike." I have no idea what he meant.

Mark: Oh, it's an allusion.

Roberto: Illusion? Something not real?

Mark: No, ALlusion. That's a reference to someone or something, without telling you the whole story. 

Roberto: For example?

Mark: If I say, "He met his Waterloo," I'm alluding to the story of Napoleon's defeat by Wellington, but I don't have to tell you about the whole battle. You have to make that connection for yourself.

Roberto: OK, I think I get it. So, what does this finger-dike thing allude to?

Mark: There's a story about a boy in the Netherlands who saw a hole in a dike...

Roberto: What's a dike?

Mark: It's a wall made of earth, to hold back the sea.

Roberto: Why do they need that?

Mark: Well, "Netherlands" means "low country." About a quarter of Holland is below sea level, and another half is within a meter above sea level.

Roberto: Wow, that IS low. So...?

Mark: So the story says that this little boy was on his way home one night and saw the dike leaking. He put his finger in the hole (or some say his hand up against the hole) and stayed there all night, until someone found him. He was considered a hero for saving his people.

Roberto: What was his name?

Mark: One story called him Peter, but...

Roberto: No, what was his real name?

Mark: In fact, it's just a story. It never happened..

Roberto: A Dutch myth?

Mark: Ummm... More bad news: The story probably started somewhere else--America, probably, in a novel called Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates, by Mary Mapes Dodge--and was then imported into Holland.

Roberto: Wow! Mythbuster!

Mark: Yeah, I know.

Roberto: One more thing: Why are people from "Holland" or "the Netherlands" called "Dutch"?

Mark: Oooo, a complicated question. Basically, it means "German"...

Roberto: Oh, like "Deutsch"?

Mark: Yeah. It's from back in the days before national boundaries were so important, and it was used to describe speakers of any of the the Germanic languages on the continent. As time went by, its focus was narrowed down to just those in the modern Netherlands.

Roberto: Got it! Thanks for the help.

Mark: No problem!

NOTE: When Mark says "the days before national boundaries were so important," he means that, before the late 18th century, Europeans identified more with one city or ruler than with a "country."


Read more:,_or_The_Silver_Skates#Popular_culture:_the_legend_of_the_boy_and_the_dike

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. allude (to)
  2. allusion
  3. dike
  4. illusion
  5. more bad news
  6. Mythbuster
  7. Netherlands

  1. an allusion to a popular TV show in which the truth of commonly-held beliefs is tested
  2. a brief reference to someone or something
  3. the proper name for the country we often call "Holland"
  4. here's another thing that you believe is true but is not
  5. something that seems to be real, but is not
  6. to make an allusion
  7. a retaining wall made of earth

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 11, 2012

This lesson received 193 visits on my old site between March, 2012, and July, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. b; 3. g; 4. e; 5. d; 6. a; 7. c