Amish Language in Context
Written by Michelle ~ A Normal Amish Girl
I have always been aware that we Amish people have words and phrases that makes the rest of the population scratch their heads in wonder. Once, I was told by a non-Amish friend that I write just how I talk. I feel that some phrases and words we use come from a loose translation of the “Dutch” we speak. When I was younger, I was aware that some of the phrases and words that I said weren’t used by everyone because when I went to public school I learned proper English and well…I didn’t always speak it. But since I’ve been out of school, I have probably fallen back into some of these same habits of speaking. When I got the idea for this post, I knew I would maybe need a little outside help. My sister-in-law didn’t grow up in an Amish setting and didn’t grow up in Allen County so I asked her if there were some sayings and words that she heard us say that were new to her. Here’s the list we come up with:
- We say “all” instead of “all gone”. Example: “The coffee is all.” Makes you wonder: all what???
- “Outen the lights.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary says outen is chiefly dialectal. It means to put out or extinguish. It may come from the Middle Low German word uten which means out or forth.
- “We are making out to…” This is a phrase my sister-in-law mentioned. When we make out, we are simply planning an event or gathering, NOT the other meaning!!
- Making days of the week plural no matter what. I have been around Amish people who make days of the week plural even when they are just talking about one particular day. Instead of saying “We are going to town on Thursday” it is “We are going to town on Thursdays.”
- Being “of” someone. A lot of times, there are so many repeating names in a community that you have to give a short genealogy lesson when explaining who you are talking about (unless you use a nickname). So, since I am not married, I am still known as Michelle of Sam’s but if I would get married I would be Michelle of whoever my husband would be. In some communities, when talking about the husband they would say the wife’s name first then the husband’s or when talking about the wife they would put the husband’s name first then the wife’s name. Example: Sam Viola isn’t going to church because she is sick.
- “Rid up.” We have always used this phrase and I had no idea it was unknown to some people! A guy that
used to work for Dad heard Mom tell us to rid up and he had no idea what she meant. I am sharing the following paragraph from the website The Word Detective: The roots of “rid” lie in Old Norse, but very early in the word’s history in English it became entangled with another word, “redd,” which is a Scots and northern English dialect word also meaning “to clean, tidy up.” Like “rid,” “redd” arrived in the US via immigrants from Great Britain, but “redd” now tends to be heard primarily in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Over time the parallel usage of “rid” and “redd” to both mean “clear out” or “clean up” has led to the two words nearly merging in their definitions, although “rid” in the more general sense of “make something go away” is far more common than “redd.”
- Mothers rocking babies to sleep while singing “bye-o” over and over. There is actually a certain tune to use when doing this. I’m not sure if it’s a tune to another song???
- “I’m going to make off my floors.” One of my favorites! This means to sand and re-varnish the hardwood floors.
Today‘s guest author is Michelle Schwartz, the owner of “The Spice Shack” which is a small, home-based business that specializes in bulk spices, medicinal herbs, and loose leaf teas. Check out her online store at www.thespiceshack.org. Michelle enjoys her family, farm life, anything outdoors, and running her shop. She also raises Miniature Hereford cattle as a hobby. We are honored for the opportunity to work with Michelle! Thank you Michelle!