You're sending me tulips mistaken for lilies
You give me your lip after punching me silly
You turned my head till it rolled down the brain drain
If I had any sense now I wouldn't want it back again

New Amsterdam it's become much too much
Till I have the possession of everything she touches
Till I step on the brake to get out of her clutches
Till I speak double dutch to a real double duchess

Down on the mainspring, listen to the tick tock
Clock all the faces that move in on your block
Twice shy and dog tired because you've been bitten
Everything you say now sounds like it was ghost-written

New Amsterdam it's become much too much
Till I have the possession of everything she touches
Till I step on the brake to get out of her clutches
Till I speak double dutch to a real double duchess

Back in London they'll take you to heart after a little while
Though I look right at home I still feel like an exile

Somehow I found myself down at the dockside
Thinking about the old days of Liverpool and Rotherhithe
The transparent people who live on the other side
Living a life that is almost like suicide

New Amsterdam it's become much too much
Till I have the possession of everything she touches
Till I step on the brake to get out of her clutches
Till I speak double dutch to a real double duchess


Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget

"New Amsterdam" as written by Elvis Costello

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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New Amsterdam song meanings
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9 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentNew Amsterdam was the name the Dutch gave present-day New York when they settled there in the 17th Century.
    skleggon April 19, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt IS Rotherhithe. Rotherhithe is a docks district of London, and Liverpool is also a major port. Costello grew up in London and Liverpool. The "other side" is therefore the other side of the Atlantic from New York (New Amsterdam).
    paul_fon May 14, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIsn't the first line "You're suddenly tulips mistaken for lilies"? I must hear that wrong. Great song about New York City. Elvis commented that he would make up songs never having experienced certain things (the example used was a lady with a cigerette holder and some attitude) then, when he had money suddenly he would meet those type of people in the flesh. I think that is what is going on here with the "duchess": he is being tempted by all the experiences in New York. "Everything you say sounds like it was ghost written" great line about being self concious from all the critics in New York and how he starts questioning himself.
    Motown1on November 25, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe first two lines are a way of saying that the girl he is singing about is selling herself short. Tulips at one point in history were worth more thant their weight in gold, this is how the netherlands gained most of their wealth inorder to create the tradeing empire that they established for a short time. The legend has it that tuilps were worth so much only untill someone accidentally bit into a bulb which the plant grows out of, then they were discarded as poor food rations. Im not sure how true this is but it sounds like a good story to me. The rest is pretty much self explanitory to me.

    This song is brilliant like all of his songs. One of my favorite versions is where it blends with Hide your love away.
    dukeision February 22, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBy the way, I think the word is RotherHITHE. Though I may be wrong.
    pumkinhedon February 12, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWow. I cant believe it took some cheezy tv show for me to make the connection, but now its soooo obvious; this song is about NEW YORK CITY!! His fascination with Gotham. Thinking about it from that point of view, EVERY lyric now SCREAMS it! Good old New York City--all the glitz, glamour, decadence, beauty...all of it--he's caught up in it and shouldnt be but dammit, just cant help himself. Think of it that way and tell me Im wrong....
    hangwire13on March 21, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentEven though I know he says "selling me tulips mistaken for lilies", every time I hear "selling mint juleps mistaken for lilies".

    I think the chorus is one of the most brilliant ever written -- potentially only ever topped by "Blue Chair" on _Blood & Chocolate_. What an amazing lyricist.
    lydgateon August 30, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe wordplay in this song is lyrically stupendous...I love it especially for that reason.
    NomadMonadon February 10, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe term "Double Dutch" in the phrase "...speak Double Dutch to a real Double Duchess" is a reference to a kids' language-game, in which kids add the syllable "op" after each syllable of the word. Thus, "hello" becomes "hopellop." The result sounds Gibberish to bystanders but is understood by the kids using it, as a sort of "secret language."
    Novartzaon August 17, 2016   Link

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