Why is “Pennsylvania Dutch” called “Dutch”?

What’s that language that the Amish speak? It’s called “Pennsylvania Dutch” or just “Dutch”. It confusing because it’s not the Dutch that people in Holland speak – it’s a dialect of German. So why is everything in Amish country is called “Dutch” when the dialect spoken is really German? This will require a short history lesson, so bear with us.

Deutschland, the homeland

The original Anabaptist Christian movement (meaning “re-baptizers”) began in the 1500’s in German-speaking Switzerland. Many Anabaptists lived in the mountains around Bern, Switzerland, the Alsace-Lorraine and the German Palatinate. In 1693, a conservative sect of these Swiss Anabaptists broke away from the main branch and followed the teachings of Jakob Amman, later known as the Amish. The main branch of the movement was eventually called the Mennonites, after a priest from Holland named Menno Simons.

When the Amish and Swiss Mennonites came to America, they brought with them their Swiss dialect. Along with the many German-speaking immigrants who came to Pennsylvania, the entire group was termed “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Dutch or “Deutsch” is actually German for the German language.

Du sind Deitsch!

Modern Pennsylvania Dutch varies from community to community and state to state. “Deitschers”,  or those who can speak Dutch, can always tell if someone is from out of the area just by their way of speaking. English is often mixed into the vernacular so you may catch a few phrases or words if you listen closely. High German speakers will find it difficult to understand and communicate since the Dutch dialect is so evolved – Swiss and Low German is similar but still quite different.

A word to the wise: those of you who read Amish novels may expect to have a good grasp of the Amish language. Believe me, it’s not even a drop in the bucket. I’ve lived in an Amish/Mennonite community all of my life, know enough Dutch and German to be dangerous, but I would not even try to speak Dutch to an Amish person. It’s not offensive to them, but you’ll find yourself to be the chuckle of the day and a good story at their next family gathering. Try speaking Dutch only if you have the ability to laugh at yourself!

A short glossary and the comedic side of “Dutch”

Dutch is really a fun language. This is a short list of common and amusing Dutch words. The words are spelled as they sound.

  • Diener – Minister
  • Dawdy – Grandpa (Sometimes the little house built next to the big family house is called the “Dawdy Haus“.)
  • Mammy – Grandma
  • Ferhuddled – Mixed up or confused
  • Groombadda mush – Mashed potatoes
  • Greeny bonna – Green beans
  • Lumba – Dish rag
  • Butz – To clean.
  • Wie bischt du? – How are you?
  • Kannst du Deitsch schwetza? – Can you understand Dutch?
  • Schmutz – Grease
  • Doplich or Dobbich – Clumsy. “I’m so dobbich, I tripped over my own feet!”
  • Loppich – Naughty
  • Gook mal doe! – Look at that!
  • Strubblich – messy. “My hair is so strubblich!” Grandma used to say this.
  • Hook die hanna. – Sit down! Often heard on the bus ride home from school.
  • Hinkle – Chicken
  • Gol or Golly – Horse
  • Kuw – Cow
  • Schlock – To hit. “He schlocked the ball over the fence.”
  • Bush – Trees. “He schlocked the ball over the bush.”
  • Shiddle – To shake. “My custard pie is so slimy, it’s shiddling.”
  • Glevalich – Slimy. “My custard pie is so glevalich, it’s shiddling.”
  • Iss da Chim dat? – “Is Jim home?” – A direct quote from my youth. The neighbors called us often at 6am, looking for my dad, Jim.)
  • Maydy, vit du hayra? “Girl, do you want to get married?” This phrase is actually a well-known Dutch song by Ohio musician John Schmid.

Lost in translation? German has a different word order than English, so the translation to English (and vice versa) can cause fits of giggling.

  • I stood up at 6 this morning. “I woke up and got out of bed at 6 o’clock.”
  • Make the lights out. “Turn off the lights.”
  • The lemonade is all. “There is no more lemonade.”
  • Throw the cow over the fence some hay. “Throw some hay over the fence for the cow.”
  • We get too soon oldt and too late schmart.

Have an amusing Dutch word or phrase? Post it (clean ones, please) in a response. We’d love to hear them.

8 thoughts on “Why is “Pennsylvania Dutch” called “Dutch”?

  1. Many of the above mentioned “dutch words” sounds very similar to our ” Hessisch Slang ” here in Germany 🙂

    • That’s really interesting, Frank! Can you elaborate on what “Hessisch Slang” is? Many of the Mennonites and Amish lived in the Palatinate and Alsace before emigrating to the States in the 1700’s to 1800’s. Is Hesse near these areas?

      • Hi, please excuse my late reply. I wasn´t sure how this site works.Thought I will get an email to my account that somebody answered to my comment…Due to a lot of work on our little farm in the last time( we have sheep and the lambs have been born the last few weeks ), I found your reply today..sorry 🙂

        Well, you are right.
        Platinate ( we say Rheinland Pfalz ) is the direkt neighbour of Hessen where I live.
        The capitol city of Palatinate is called Mainz. Mainz is 20 miles from us.
        Alsace ( Elsass ) is a bit more in the west but is not a part of Germany anymore.
        In the history Alsace belonged to Germany and to France for several years. Since WW 2 Alsace is part of France.
        Here is a LINK to a Wikipedia Site where you can see the states in Germany:


        You see, Rheinland Pfalz ( Palatinate ) and Hessen are neighbours so the slang is more or less similar.

        Here you can see, where Elsass ( Alsace ) is located:

        If you have more questions please feel free and send me a mail.

        Wish you a nice week,


  2. The Pennsylvania Dutch language spoken by the Amish in the United States is derived primarily from the German dialect spoken in the Palatinate/Palz/Pfalz, which many Palatine refugees brought to Pennsylvania in the early decades of the 18th century. The only existing Pennsylvania German newspaper, “Hiwwe wie Driwwe” is published bi-annually in the village “Ober-Olm”, which is located close to Mainz, the state capital of Palatine. In the same village, one can find the headquarters of the “German-Pennsylvanian Association”. we still use the word Deitsch or Dietsch in the Palz (Pfalz-region) but it’s our way of saying Deutsch(German), not dutch/nederlandesch. we “esch” ou “isch” not “ich” etwas “ik” in de noord and we do not use “Pf” just “p”,esch ben ene deitsche, other local dialekts sayings, Waaden!“ saat de Alde, „Dem zei ich’s. Beruischen eich!“ Un flieht ’m hinnerher.(nai Metz) Meine Kleene Angscht mache? Isch glaab, Du schpinnscht!“(nai Zweibucken),,, Dor up flücht hei wedder trüüch nah sien Nest. „So, Kinner“, secht hei, „Denn heff ik dat afwennt. De kümmt nich wedder.( Platt-Sachse, low Saxon), so many German dialekts, so little time, lol Palz words, Grumbeea-patato,Bääm-trees,ned-not, Ärwedd-work,Schdää-stone,hawwe-have.,,Hoschd ach Hunga?

    • Very interesting comment about the different german slangs.
      You mentioned the newspaper “Hiwwe wie Driwwe” puplished in Ober-Olm…
      So I guess you live in that area because you know so many things about the slang of Pfalz and Hessen?

    • Well, I’m not sure…
      I assume that the word ‘Dutch’ is another form for ‘Deutsch’ .
      Deutsch is the german word for ‘German’.


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