Understanding the Dutch Idiom: "met de kippen op stok gaan" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: Dutch
Etymology: Literally, “to go to roost with the chickens”. After chickens' behaviour of roosting at twilight.
  • IPA: /mɛt də ˈkɪpə(n) ɔp ˈstɔk ˈɣaːn/

This enigmatic phrase, which literally translates to “going to bed with the chickens,” holds a deeper meaning beyond its literal interpretation. It encapsulates a cultural nuance unique to the Netherlands and offers valuable insights into their way of life. By exploring its various connotations and applications, we can gain a deeper understanding of Dutch culture and language.

So what does it really mean?

The idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan” is used to describe someone who goes to bed early or at an unusually early hour. However, its significance extends beyond mere bedtime habits. This expression reflects the Dutch emphasis on leading an organized and disciplined lifestyle, where punctuality and routine play crucial roles.

Usage and Contexts of the Dutch Idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan”: Exploring Variations

One common variation of this idiom is when it is used to describe someone who prefers an early bedtime. It implies that they have a routine similar to that of chickens, who typically go back to their coop at dusk. This variation highlights the idea of being disciplined and having a regular sleep schedule.

Another way in which this idiom can be used is to express someone’s desire or intention to retire early from social activities or events. It suggests that they prefer a quiet evening at home rather than staying out late. This variation emphasizes the notion of prioritizing rest and relaxation over social engagements.

Furthermore, “met de kippen op stok gaan” can also be employed metaphorically in situations where individuals choose to withdraw from certain responsibilities or commitments. It signifies their decision to disengage or step back from a particular situation, just like how chickens retreat to their roosting place for safety during nighttime. This variation underscores the concept of self-preservation and avoiding unnecessary burdens.

Variation Description
Early Bedtime This variation refers to individuals who have a regular sleep schedule similar to chickens going back into their coop at dusk.
Retiring from Social Activities This variation signifies someone’s preference for a quiet evening at home instead of staying out late.
Withdrawing from Responsibilities This variation represents the decision to disengage or step back from certain commitments, similar to how chickens retreat to their roosting place for safety.

These variations demonstrate the versatility of the idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan” and its ability to be applied in different contexts. By exploring these variations, we gain a deeper understanding of the idiomatic expression and its significance within Dutch culture.

Origins of the Dutch Idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan”: A Historical Perspective

The historical roots behind the Dutch idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan” can be traced back to ancient agricultural practices in the Netherlands. This idiom, which translates to “going to bed with the chickens,” has a rich history that sheds light on the cultural significance of poultry farming in Dutch society.

In traditional Dutch farming communities, it was common for families to keep chickens as a source of food and income. These chickens were typically allowed to roam freely during the day, but at nightfall, they would instinctively return to their coop or perch on wooden stakes known as “stok.” The act of going to bed early, or retiring for the night, became associated with this behavior observed in chickens.

This idiom reflects a time when people’s daily routines were closely tied to nature and agriculture. In an era without electric lighting or modern conveniences, it was necessary for farmers and their families to adjust their schedules according to natural daylight patterns. As dusk settled over the countryside, people would often retire early along with their feathered companions.

Furthermore, this idiom also carries connotations of simplicity and frugality. By aligning one’s sleeping habits with those of chickens, individuals embraced a lifestyle that prioritized early rising and efficient use of daylight hours. It symbolized an adherence to traditional values such as hard work and self-sufficiency.

Over time, however, societal changes have led this idiom to evolve beyond its literal meaning. Today, “met de kippen op stok gaan” is often used figuratively to describe someone who goes to bed very early or maintains a strict routine. It can also imply someone who prefers a more traditional way of life or adheres to conservative values.

Cultural Significance of the Dutch Idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan”

The cultural significance of the Dutch idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan” lies in its deep-rooted connection to traditional Dutch values and lifestyle. This idiom, which can be loosely translated as “going to bed with the chickens,” reflects a strong emphasis on punctuality, simplicity, and a close relationship with nature.

Historical Context:

In the past, when agriculture played a significant role in Dutch society, people would wake up early in the morning to tend to their farms and animals. As sunset approached, it was customary for farmers to retire early and go to bed at the same time as their chickens. This practice ensured that they were well-rested for another day of hard work.

This idiom symbolizes not only an adherence to a disciplined routine but also a respect for nature’s rhythms and cycles.


The idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan” highlights the importance placed on punctuality within Dutch culture. By going to bed early like the chickens, individuals demonstrate their commitment to starting each day refreshed and ready for whatever tasks lie ahead. This value is deeply ingrained in various aspects of Dutch life, from work schedules to social gatherings.

Being prompt is seen as a sign of respect for others’ time and contributes to efficient functioning within society.


The idiom also reflects the Dutch appreciation for simplicity and frugality. Going to bed with the chickens signifies embracing a modest lifestyle that prioritizes essential needs over excessive indulgence or extravagance. It encourages individuals not only to avoid excessive materialism but also to find contentment in the simple pleasures of life.

This value is evident in Dutch design, architecture, and even cuisine, which often emphasize clean lines, functionality, and quality over unnecessary embellishments.

Connection with Nature:

The idiom “met de kippen op stok gaan” underscores the Dutch people’s close relationship with nature. By aligning their sleep patterns with those of their chickens, individuals acknowledge the importance of respecting and living in harmony with the natural world. This connection to nature is deeply rooted in Dutch history and culture, as the country’s landscape is characterized by its extensive farmlands and picturesque countryside.

Through this idiom, the Dutch recognize that their well-being is intertwined with that of the environment around them.

Avoiding Mistakes in Using the Dutch Expression “met de kippen op stok gaan”: Common Errors and Advice

1. Misunderstanding the Context

One common mistake is misunderstanding the context in which “met de kippen op stok gaan” is used. It is crucial to grasp that this expression refers to going to bed early, similar to how chickens roost at nightfall. Therefore, using it in a different context or applying a literal translation can lead to confusion or misinterpretation.

2. Incorrect Verb Usage

An error often made when using this idiom is incorrect verb usage. The phrase “met de kippen op stok gaan” includes the verb “gaan,” meaning “to go.” It is essential not only to include this verb but also conjugate it correctly based on the subject and tense of your sentence. Neglecting proper verb usage can result in grammatical inaccuracies.

Advice: To avoid mistakes related to verb usage, make sure you understand how verbs are conjugated in Dutch and pay attention to subject-verb agreement when constructing sentences with this idiom.

3. Lack of Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness plays a significant role in accurately using idioms such as “met de kippen op stok gaan.” Without understanding its cultural background, one may fail to appreciate its nuances or use it appropriately within conversations or written texts.

Note: Developing cultural awareness can be achieved through exposure to Dutch literature, movies, or conversations with native speakers. This will help you gain a deeper understanding of the idiom’s meaning and usage.

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