Amish Words & Phrases

The Amish speak a variation of German called Pennsylvania Dutch (some speak a variation on Swiss) as well as English. As happens with any language spread out over various locations, Amish use of language includes different dialects and common phrases by region.

As an author, I want to make the worlds I portray authentic. However, I have to balance that with how readers read. For example, if I’m writing a romance based in Texas or in England, I don’t write the full dialect because it can be jarring and pull a reader out of the story. Consequently, for my Amish romances, which hold a special place in my heart, I wanted to get a good balance of readability and yet incorporate Pennsylvania Dutch words and phrases so that readers get a good sense of being within that world. I sprinkled them throughout and tried to use what seem to be the most common words and phases across regions, as well as the easiest to understand within the context of the story.

If you read books within this genre, you’ll note that different authors spell the same words in several different ways. Each author has her or his own favorite references, and not all references use the same spellings. I preferred to go with a more phonetic spelling approach.

Below are the words and phrases most consistently used in my books:

WORDS

*in alphabetical order

  • aendi – aunt
  • ach jah – oh yes
  • ach vell – oh well
  • appenditlich – delicious
  • Ausbund – the Amish hymnal used in worship services
  • baremlich – terrible
  • boppli – baby (alternate spelling: bobbli)
  • bruder – brother
  • buwe – boy
  • daddi and/or grossdaddi – grandpa / grandfather (alternate spelling: dawdi)
  • dat – dad (alternate spellings: daed, daadi)
  • deerich – silly, idiotic, foolish
  • denki – thank you (alternate spelling: danki)
  • dochder – daughter
  • fater – father
  • fraa – wife
  • Gelassenheit—yielding or submission to the will of God. For the Amish, this is a central tenant to living their beliefs. Translations in English include serenity, calm, composure, and equanimity—essentially the result of that yielding.
  • Gotte – God (alternate spelling: Gott, Got)
  • gmay – lowercase g is referring to the Amish community who worship together
  • Gmay – capital G is referring to worship/church services held bi-weekly
  • gute – good (alternate spelling: gut)
  • jah – yes (alternate spellings: ja, ya)
  • kinder – younger children
  • kumme – come (alternate spellings: kum, cum)
  • liebling / liebchen – darling, term of endearment
  • maedel – girl
  • mamm – mom (alternate spellings: maem, maam)
  • mammi and/or grossmammi – grandma / grandmother
  • mann – husband
  • mater – mother (alternate spelling: mudder)
  • nae – no (alternate spelling: nay)
  • narrish – crazy
  • Rumspringa – “running around”, the term used to describe the period of adolescence Amish experience starting at around age 16 with increased social interaction and independence (alternate spealling: Rumschpringe)
  • schmunzla – kissing and cuddling
  • scholar – student (usually in elementary or grade school)
  • schtinke – stink
  • schwester – sister
  • singeon – a Sunday evening social event for the older youth / teenagers / unmarried young adults. They bring tasty food, play games, sing hymns and other favorite songs of faith, and other social activities. Often part of courtship (especially offering to drive a girl home in a buggy).
  • vell – well
  • wunderbaar – wonderful (alternate spellings: wunderbar, wunderlich)
  • yet – used at the ends of sentences in place of words like “too” or “still”
  • youngie / die youngie – youths, usually referring to the older children / teenagers / unmarried young adults
  • wunderbaar – wonderful (alternate spellings: wunderbar, wunderlich)

PHRASES

  • for sure and certain
  • it wonders me
  • oh help
  • redd up – “ready up,” get ready
  • rutsching around – fooling around
  • wonderful gute (wonderful as a way of saying “very” can be placed in front of many words)

PHRASES IN PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH

  • ach du lieva – oh my goodness
  • Er is en faehicher schreiner. – He is an able carpenter.
  • Gott segen eich. – God bless you.
  • Ich saag dank am disch. – I offer thanks at the table.
  • mache gute – Have a good day.
  • oh, sis yuscht – oh no, oh darn
  • Wie bischt? – How are you?

SAYINGS & IDIOMS

  • “Blowing at the smoke doesn’t help if the chimney is plugged.”
  • “Difficulty is a miracle in its first stage.”
  • “If you aim at nothing, you’re bound to hit it.”
  • “If you want a place in the sun, you will have to expect some blisters.”

RESOURCES

  • Visit the Amish
  • The Morning Call
  • Future of Working
  • Amish America
  • Amish 365
  • BBC UK
  • The Amish by Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, & Steven M. Nolt
  • The Amish Way by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, & David L. Weaver-Zercher
  • Growing Up Amish: The Rumspringa Years by Richard A. Stevick
  • The Amish in Their Own Words Compiled By Brad Igou
  • Plain Diversity: Amish Cultures & Identities by Steven M. Nolt & Thomas J. Meyers
  • Grace Leads Me Home by Marlene C. Miller

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