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Posted by Graham Cambray on March 04, 2009 at 20:20

In Reply to: MY OLD DUTCH posted by David FG on March 04, 2009 at 19:39:

: : : : : With regards to your meaning of MY OLD DUTCH, it DOES rhyme and IS cockney rhyming slang as it comes from Duchess of Fife, not just duchess!!!!!!

: : : : As so often, capitals and exclamation marks come in and reason flies out. The term 'my old Dutch' was known before there was a title of Duchess of Fife. That seems to hole your assertion below the waterline. See the link below for more details.

: : : :

: : In the linked article, I'm a bit underwhelmed by the reference "on his marriage to Louise Dagmar". She was the eldest daughter of King Edward VII and more properly known as "Princess Louise" or "Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife". It does add a bit of weight to the story to know why the title was bestowed and that the first Duchess already had a title higher than duchess. The second and third holders of the title Duchesses of Fife were her daughters Alexandra and Maud who were also considered princesses.

: As a mere technical aside, the title of 'princess' (or 'prince' come to that) is not 'higher' than Duchess/Duke.

: A prince/princess is, in certain circumstances, raised to a dukedom. Thus it was that Prince Charles was elevated to the Dukedom of Cornwall, and his brother, Prince Andrew, to the Dukedom of York.



This is clearly not an easy phrase to get a clear shot at. Even Eric Partridge has confessed to originally getting it wrong. In A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge, Paul Beale (8th Edition, 1982) he writes:
OLD DUTCH or DUTCH, gen. prec. by MY, occ. by YOUR or HIS. One's wife: from the middle 1880s. When Albert Chevalier introduced the term into one of his songs (cf. the later, more famous poem, 'My Old Dutch'), he explained that it referred to an old Dutch clock, the wife's face being likened to the clock-face. Prob, influenced by *duchess* (cf. my etymological error, at *old dutch*, in the 1st ed. of *slang*). Franklyn 2nd: 'DUCHESS OF FIFE, *Wife*, 19C. Invariably reduced to *Dutch* (my old Dutch).' And L.A., 1974, writes 'With all due respect to Albert Chevalier, he was talking cock. "Old Dutch" is "Dutch plate": mate. I can vouch for it (mate) among Cockneys in the 1920s and 30s.'
[Partridge's bold text shown here in capitals, and his italics between stars]

I don't see much to support the "clock" angle - I don't know who the L.A. is that Partridge refers to, but I'd agree with him.

Gary Martin's point that there wasn't a Duchess of Fife when the phrase was first used is unassailable. As Partridge suggests, ruling out "Dutch plate" is more difficult. Cockney Rhyming Sland seems to have begun around the 1840s, but I can find no early example of "Dutch plate" for mate, and if Gary Martin can't find it either, I suspect it probably doesn't exist. If anyone can get "Dutch plate" back to the 1890s, we would clearly have to take it seriously.

As has been pointed out, the first Duchess of Fife was sort of important. It was two days after her wedding that Queen Victoria made Louise's new husband a Duke (previously an Earl), and Louise became the Duchess. She became a Princess a few years later.

I imagine it would all have been a big deal at the time - perhaps a bit like Charle's and Di's wedding (or close to it) - Louise was 5th in line to the throne, and Victoria's favourite granddaughter.

Rhyming slang (both Cockney and Australian) has always has reacted to events (and personalities) - new examples are still appearing today.

So, did "my old Dutch" come from "Duchess of Fife"? No. Did it subsequently become Cockney rhyming slang? I wouldn't rule it out for a minute. I can well imagine the phrase "my old Dutch" - already i n use - being humourously embroidered to "my old Duchess of Fife" for a year or two, before sinking back to it's original form. You'll certainly find the link in authoritative sources (e.g. Encyclopaedia Brittanica) - but these sources don't claim that "my old Du tch" has its origins in Cockney rhyming slang - just that it (at some time) got "tied up with" rhyming slang.

And origins is what this site is primarily about.

The origins of "my old Dutch" may have nothing to do with rhyming slang at all, or could conceivably come from "Dutch plate". But clearly not from "Duchess of Fife", unless somebody wheeled out HG Wells' time machine.