From 16 November 1942 onwards, Anne Frank had to share her room with the dentist Fritz Pfeffer, who had a number of habits that Anne couldn't stand. In the German biography Anne Frank (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlts Taschenbuch Verlag, 2002), Matthias Heyl writes:

In ihrer überarbeiteten Tagebuchversion revanchierte [Anne Frank] sich damit, dass sie ihm den weder im Niederländischen noch im Deutschen schmeichelhaften Namen «Dussel» verpasste.

My translation:

In the reworked version of her diary, [Anne Frank] took revenge on him by giving him the nickname "Dussel", which is unflattering, both in German and in Dutch.

(More literally translated: "flattering neither in German nor in Dutch".)

The German Wiktionary defines Dussel as "ungeschickter Mensch" (awkward/inept/unintelligent person). Something similar can be found in the online Duden dictionary.

But as far as I know, dussel is not a word in Dutch (my native language). So why would the name be unflattering in Dutch? I am looking for evidence in a reliable offline source; I have seen too much nonsense on the Web.

  • 1
    Apparently at least one site on the Internet believes it to be a valid Dutch word too. But to be honest I'd tend to take the author's word for it if she reported that the Dutch people surrounding her were familiar with the term ... Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 2:38
  • @WillCrawford The link you posted is to a German - Dutch dictionary entry that translates the German word "Dussel" as "sufferd" in Dutch. (In German, unlike Dutch, nouns start with a capital letter.) I see no evident there that "dussel" is a word in Dutch.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 13:03
  • So, Düsseldorf is the village of dorks? Interesting.
    – verbose
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 11:58
  • 1
    @verbose The plural of Dussel is ... Dussel or Dussels, not Düssel, so people from Düsseldorf don't need to worry ;-)
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 12:01
  • In English it's often spelled without the umlaut, though
    – verbose
    Commented Feb 2, 2021 at 12:04

2 Answers 2


After reading Anne Frank's diary, I also read Het Anne Frank Huis: een biografie by Jos van der Lans and Herman Vuisje (Boom, 2010) and Herinneringen aan Anne Frank by Miep Gies (Bakker, 2009). These books do not comment on the name Dussel as being somehow unflattering.

In addition, I have checked two editions of the three-volume Van Dale dictionary, Johannes Franck's Etymologisch woordenboek der Nederlandsche taal ("Etymological Dictionary of the Dutch Language", 1892), Interglot (which lists it as a German word, not a Dutch one), and asked other native speakers of Dutch. I have not found any evidence that "dussel" is a word in Dutch.

Based on this, I assume that biographer Matthias Heyl, whose native language is presumably German, simply thought that the German noun "Dussel" also existed in Dutch with the same meaning. Note that Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and was raised speaking German before the Frank family moved to the Netherlands, so it is safe to assume that she knew what the German word meant.


Given that Anne Frank's family were refugees from Germany into Netherlands and lived within a German-Jewish refugee community within Amsterdam. It's quite possible that 'dussel' was a word that this migrant community used in Dutch to describe an 'awkward/ inept/unintelligent' person, the word having slipt from German usage into Dutch. Anne may have heard her own family and other adults use it in Dutch - after all, they were learning the language. To her, given she was four months away from her fifth birthday when they fled Germany, and just how rapidly children assimilate to a new language, Dutch would have been her native language.

In my own community, a British-Bangladeshi community (I"m second geberation and born in Britain), I recall people using the word 'bastor' in Bengali to describe an unpleasant person. It's not in any Bengali dictionary and it's obviously been imported from the English word, 'bastard'. The parallels with the case you suggest is obvious.

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    This answer would be greatly improved with some proof that what you claim about the meaning of "dussel" in Anne's migrant community. Without that evidence all this answer does it make analogies, which are not proof.
    – bobble
    Commented Feb 3, 2021 at 15:14

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