Remember the time you took one look at the jerky, unfortunately muscly, buck-eighty bro at the end of the bar and decided yes, by god, you were going to fight him? Or the other time when after a few (tops, six) glasses of Cab, you took your wine-stained grin to the tattoo parlor and adamantly ordered that “Zack Attack” tat?
Whatever your “fear versus intoxication” scenario—and they are varied and many—you were experiencing something historically called “Dutch Courage.” The ethnicist slur you did not know you used. (Potentially.)
At the most basic colloquial sense (you can check Urban Dictionary, just maybe avoid the “for instance”), Dutch courage refers to the act of drinking to reinforce one’s will to face fear—bolstering a wobbly bravery. Like what you do, but probably shouldn’t, before you take your first Improv class. And generally speaking, no word on whether anyone factored the ration of just how much “courage” you should drink before the lack of rationale outweighed the bravery. Or how well your Improv scene would go.
In a historical sense, Dutch soldiers supposedly drank before battle, euphemistically as a means of fortifying themselves for victory, or, on a more common sense human level, squaring with the fact of possible impending mortality.
Which brings us to another possible elaboration of the phrase—gin. The idea being that Dutch soldiers were just specifically fond of gin for courage-perking purposes. Why gin? It’s not entirely certain. Then again, certain drinks—per How I Met Your Mother—have certain impacts. Champagne (obviously) makes us do the Charleston; red wine makes us verbally grandiose; whiskey makes us slurrily verbally grandiose; tequila makes us get on the bar; vodka makes us get off the bar; and gin makes us plucky. There’s a serious chance the reason most of us don’t casually drink gin is because we’ll Hulk out and dominate the nearest villain with juniper-powered “might.” (Not really, gin is a delightful and complex, sip-worthy drink. Just don’t drink it when you’re angry.)
An interesting place to look for explanations turns out to be The Guardian “Semantic Enigmas” page, where the question “going Dutch” led to a couple clues for “Dutch Courage.” Per one commenter, “Dutch” just means “false,” which makes a lot of common sense in context, as in “false bravery,” although clearly derogatory. Which commenter, Gareth Graham, built on, suggesting—the most likely historical explanation for the term—the 17th and 18th Century empire rivalry between Brits and Dutch led the Brits to coin “Dutch courage” to make fun of the Dutch soldiers’ need to drink before battle.
Which leads to a big wormhole of “Dutch” prejudice, e.g. “going Dutch,” “Dutch uncle” (a mean, mean dude compared to the uncle who gives you 20 bucks for smokes), and “Dutch auction” (lowest price possible).
At the end of the day, probably stop saying “Dutch courage.” It’s not really a good thing to say. And also, what alcohol drinking country on earth hasn’t had its fair (enormous) share of alcohol-induced bravado, and/or chest-bumping? And bless us all.