The use of diminutives is fairly common in Dutch. It’s an interesting concept, one we don’t really have in English. For those who have no clue what I’m talking about, a diminutive is basically taking a thing, and specifying that it is small. “Little girl” would be an example. In English, you can do this by adding “little” or “mini” to before a word. Like “mini muffins”. In Dutch, it’s much simpler. Simply add a “je” onto the end of most nouns.
The Dutch word for girl is “meisje”, meaning “little girl.” It is a stand-alone diminutive, as the word “meis” does not exist. Adult male dogs are called “mannetje,” or “little man.” This extends to non-living things as well. You might pop into a cafe for a “biertje” (quick beer), or take your dog for a “loopje” (quick walk).
Heineken has recently introduced a new product, a self-contained beer container with a tap for home use. What do they call it? A “tapje”. When would be the optimal time to use it? At a “feestje” (little party).
If you go to a friends, and they offer you a coffee, it will most likely arrive in a “cupje.” If they instead bring you a Coke, it will probably be served in a glass “flesje” (little bottle), or in a “glaasje” (little glass).
Of course, making a word into diminutive form doesn’t always just mean it is little. Sometimes it changes the meaning. Changing “het ijs” into “het ijsje” alters it from “ice” to “icecream.” “kaart” to “kaartje” goes from “card” to “ticket.”
It’s really a quaint little way to show affection. To practice Dutch, I will sometimes try to speak Dutch to Churchill. My favorite thing to say to him is “Zullen wij buiten gaan, mannetje?”, or “Shall we go outside, little man?” This is usually met with an indifferent stare, whereby I translate into English for his benefit: “Churchill, do you want to go outside?” After the requisite jumps and whines and barks are completed, I hook up his leash, and we go for our “loopje”.