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May 11, 1940 - Image 6

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1940-05-11

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Page Six


by Richard M. Ludwig

T HERE IS A SECTION in southern
Germany which once was known as
the Palatinate. This section was
an electorate of the Old German Em-
pire and included part of Bavaria and
the territory now divided among Bavar-
ia, Baden, Hesse, and Prussia. It was
in the late seventeenth and early eight-
eenth centuries that a group of German
folk from this region left their home-
land to journey to America and to set-
tle in southeastern Pennsylvania. The
vestiges of these early settlers have by
no means been eclipsed by the advent
of the twentieth century. Their habits,
customs, even their language still ex-
ist in a far more palpable form than
that of archives and chronicles alone.
The culture of these first settlers can
be found today, very much alive, in
their own posterity. I refer to the Pen-
nyslvania Dutch-a people with a her-
itage peculiarly their own.
These people are my people, and for
many reasons I am proud of my Pen-
nsylvania Dutch ancestry. Reading, the
city in which I was born and have spent
most of my life, is situated in Berks
County, in the midst of this "Dutch"
community. Although we are invariably
referred to as "Dutch," the word in this
connection has nothing to do with the
Holland Dutch. Most scholars agree
that the phrase may be a corruption of
the word deitsch, which is Pennsylvania
Dutch for Deutsch. Constantly increas-
ing usage of the term Pennsylvania
Dutch to designate the inhabitants of
this region and the frank reference
made by these people themselves to
thcir "Dutch" friends and neighbors
have caused the term to become broadly
A more fascinating subject, however,
than the controversy over the exact
nomenclature of these people is the
language then in use in this Lower
Rhine country was Middle High Ger-
man. In America, these immigrants
came into contact with people from
Swabia and Switzerland,-who also had
made their homes in southeastern Pen-
nsylvania. Hence there developed a fus-
ing of the German dialects peculiar to
the regions from which these people
had migrated. In a few generations,
the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch lang-
uage had evolved-a combination of
all these dialects, in which the straight-
forward speech of the Palatinate pre-
dominates. The language, however, has
no standard grammar, no complete dic-
tionary, and no universal method of
spelling. Certainly it was never intend-
ed for literary exposition. It is a col-
loquial language, a speech of everyday
life, to be used for vocal expression.
And use it these immigrants did. They
formed compact clans among them-
selves and clung to the language of
their forefathers. But the English, who
were in authority at the time, consider-
ed this natural desire as contradictory
to their own interests and so attempted
to eliminate the use of the German
language. Their efforts caused the Pen-
nsylvania Dutch to cling all the more
to their heritage. When they were final-
ly forced to adopt the English language,
they inflected their English according
to the pattern of their own tongue.
There arose, as a result, what we call
Pennsylvania Dutch expressions - ex-
pressionas which still adhere to the
speech of our locality.
Odd uses of the verb make are ex-
ceptionally common. Were one to ask
a farmer what he thought the weather
would be the next day, he might an-
swer, "Well, the paper wants rain, but
I ain't so sure. Yet, it may make down
in the morning." Ann Hark, in her
book Hex Marks the Spot, recalls a
nightwatchman who often used the ex-
pression, "Twelf o'glock - all's well.
Makes something down like a drizzle."
My mother, in telling her neighbors how
some baking has turned out, often says,

"Well, it just didn't make this time."
And when a group of people want to
arrange to go somewhere, they say,
"Let's us make out to go to the movies."
One day an old lady, whose doorbell
needed repairing, posted a sign on her
front door. It read, "Bell don't make.
Bump." The word all is often used in
strange fashion. The "Dutch" seldom
say, "We have a holiday today," but
rather, "We have off today." Likewise,
"The candy's all" means "The candy is
all gone." Ain't is an expression com-
mon to all sections of the United States.
The Pennsylvania Dutch, however, add
their inimitable touch with, "You're
going with me, ain't so?" Already, yet,
and just are also used in a curious way.
A farmer who used to peddle his pro-
ducts in our neighborhood had the same

iting Reading for the first time, said
to her husband as they stood on a
street corner of the shopping district,
"Let's we-un's walk the street down and
look the windows in." One acquainted
with German can see how a literal
translation would account for such
wording. I've even heard a farmer ask
his helper to "tie the dog loose and pitch
the horse over the fence some hay."
Ann Hark tells of several such tales. An
old friend of her family used to confuse
his words so often. Once someone asked
him whether he would be free to do
some work the following evening. "I
don't know," Charley answered uncer-
tainly. "I'll have to go home and insult
my wife." So he disappeared, returning
a short time later to announce soberly,
"Well, I insulted her and she 'fused."

l9eace 9 Of r1fime
NOW Judas stalks the quivering streets
With bombast in the park,
And slices up the thin retreats,
The pitying dark
Machines of summer hunt the nerve
In marble orchards, where
Subtle politics reserve
The private air.
The cardboard lovers shift the scene,
And fathers go insane,
And passionate subway flowers wean
The chromium rain.
Who can treasure ancient myth,
Believe the childhood scheme,
Denounce the dollar shibboleth,
The regimented dream?
April decrees the slaughtered calf
Must perish in the field.
Beguile the silent sorrow, seize
The sanguine shield.
- Howard Moss

of my father's favorite expressions is
schusslich. He uses it quite often when
annoyed by my restlessness, and it
means clumsy or careless. A glutzkopf is
a stupid person, and verhoodled means
excited or confused. More onomatopoeic
than any of our other expressions is
the word kutz, which in more formal
language means "to regurgitate." Now
these words sound and appear decidedly
German, but there are some expressions
which look much more like English and
probably have only their etymology in
the German. The huckster who used
to serve my grandmother had a sales
talk that serves well to support such a
statement. "Well, Henry," Grandma
would say, "what have you this morn-
ing?" "Well," he'd reply, "there are
some ripes and red-ripes, some schnitz
mit the shins on and some schnitz mit-
out, hens and hens' husbands, and a few
inmakes." Now by ripes he meant tur-
nips and by red-ripes, red beets; schnitz
mit the shins on and schnitz mit-out
are peeled and unpeeled apples; and
inmakes are preserves or jellies!
Just as the Pennsylvania Dutchman
has become individual in his manner
of speaking, so has he acquired a num-
ber of odd customs from his ancestors.
One must become acquainted with these
habits and customs if he is really to
understand the people. For example,
a stranger in the region might be es-
pecially. fascinated by the numerous
multi-colored symbols that Pennsyl-
vania Dutch farmers have painted on
their barns. These cryptic signs take
many shapes-octagonal, round, square,
parabolic-and often contain designs of
stars, wheel-spokes, flowers, crosses,
leaves, and even hearts and diamonds.
Just what their origin is has caused
serious controversy. So many historians
try to read all kinds of witchery into
these symbols either by saying that the
signs had their origin in the mystic
symbolism of Rosicrucian Order (as
though the farmers would know who
the Posicrucians were) or by tracing
their derivation to the early Christian
art of the catacombs. More utilitarian
souls claim that the signs are used to
advertise the objects sold by the indust-
rious owners of the barns they grace.
Then there is the religious viewpoint
that the symbols are supposed to ward
off diseases and the evil effects of
witchcraft. But the most recent theories
discount all these suppositions. Dr. John
Baer Stoudt, who has written on Penn-
sylvania Dutch folklife, relates the story
of a farmer who stopped at a filling
station and, observing the star-shaped
trade mark of the oil company in bright
green and red, asked the attendant to
save it for him were it ever to be dis-
carded. Sometime later the sign was
given to the farmer, who promptly
nailed it to his barn. For decoration
such as this, these strange symbols are
found on Pennsylvania Dutch barns.
The farmers themselves would discount
all these mystic elements and admit
that their signs are "just for fancy."
There are some serious religious cus-
toms, however, to which the older folk
still adhere. The day preceding the
first day of Lent is known as Shrove
Tuesday, and with this holiday comes
feasting, with the emphasis on baked
goods. Since the German equivalent of
Shrove Tuesday is Fastnacht, the Penn-
sylvania Dutch call this celebration
Faasnacht Day and the humble dough-
nut or Faasnacht almost literally
swamps the community. Fassnachts
are neither crullers nor fried cakes;
they can best be called raisin honey
doughnuts. It is the local custom that
the last person out of bed on Shrove
Tuesday is dubbed the Fassnacht, and
the name entitles him to an extra
large doughnut, accompanied by much
jovial ridicule. The Thursday before
Good Friday also bears a special sig-
(Continued on Page Ten)

reply every time one would ask him
what he had to sell. "Well," he would
say, "I haf some peas, yet I haf yet,
and I haf some eggs, yet 1 haf yet, and
there's still a few potatoes left yet,"
Sometimes already and yet are combin-
ed to form expressions like, "Haven't
they gone already yet?" There are also
certain letters which the Pennsylvania
Dutch pronounce rather strangely. J's
and V's are most noticeable; they always
say winegar and walues. One can im-
agine what they do with Pennsylvania.
My grandmother sometimes says, "Well,
we don't have much that you'd like-
chust chinger-snaps and chello." One
day I overheard a quaint conversation
in the market house. A farmer's wife
was talking to her neighbor and said.
"I haf the best luck with my cheery
chelly when I put a little pineapple in
with it. Chust stir it a little and it gets
sick crick." She meant that cherries
and pineapple mixed would make her
jelly become thick quickly. And then
there is the story of a man named
"Spooky" Adams who holds the office
of police-chief in a small borough near
Reading. "Spooky," one day, was in-
quiring at a private residence about a
complaint he had received over the
telephone. "Well, what is the license
number of the car that dented your
fender," asked "Spooky" of the young
lady. "Why, I'm quite sure," she an-
swered, "that it was 6964C." "Which C
do you mean?" asked "Spookky." "What
do you mean, which C?" replied the
girl. "Why ABC or XYC," "Spooky"
One of our favorite stories at home
relates that a farmer's wife, when vis-

Then there was the man who came into
a rural store one day to buy a belt for
his wife. He didn't know the size, so he
proceeded to draw a graphic picture of
her. "She's not so sin (thin) and not
so sick (thick)," he told the clerk, "but
she's wide out around." In this same
country store, a farmer's wife had al-
most as much trouble in describing what
she wanted. It seems that she wished to
match a piece of cloth that she had at
home, but she failed to bring along a
sample. When asked to describe the
dress goods, she said, "Well, it has every
once in a while a dot, then wait awhile,
then again a dot and wait awhile." The
salesgirl finally decided that the lady
meant dotted-swiss. But the very best
of such stories is one that I heard just
recently. An old man was complaining
to a friend about all the sickness his
wife was having lately. "Oh, she's hav-
ing so much trouble with her mous
(mouth)," he said. "The dentist says she
has exceeding gums, but as if that
wasn't bad enough, to make mattters
she has pioneer, too."
Peculiar use of the English language,
however, is not the only strange ele-
ment in the speech of the Pennsylvania
Dutch. Certain words of their own or-
igin are even more humorous than their
bastard English. For instance, a rut or
a ditch in the road is to us merely a
blutz, while a smooth sheet of ice or
snow on which one can glide or go
coasting is a rutchie. Two verbs that
sound somewhat similar but are quite
the opposite in meaning are schmutz
and spritz. The former implies a rather
active type of "necking"; the latter re-
fers only to the splashing of water. One

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