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 sprinkle them throughout and try to use what seem to be the most common words and phases across regions and in comparable fiction, as well as those 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

  • Aemen – amen
  • aendi – aunt
  • ach – oh
  • ach jah – oh yes
  • ach vell – oh well
  • appeditlich – delicious
  • Ausbund – the Amish hymnal used in worship services
  • baremlich – terrible
  • blume – flowers
  • boppli / bopplin – baby or babies (alternate spelling: bobbli, bobbel, bobblin)
  • bruder – brother
  • buwe – boy
  • daddi and/or grossdaddi – grandpa / grandfather (alternate spelling: dawdi)
  • Dawdi Haus – a small house or rooms separate from the main house where a grandparent or grandparents live out their retirement
  • dat – dad (alternate spellings: daed, daadi)
  • deerich – silly, idiotic, foolish
  • Deitschi wege – Dutch ways
  • denki – thank you (alternate spelling: danki)
  • die – the
  • Die Botschaft – a weekly newspaper serving Old Order Amish communities everywhere
  • dochder – daughter
  • eck – a special place for bride and groom at the corner of the wedding table
  • Englisch, Englischer – a non-Amish person
  • fater – father (alternate spellings: vader)
  • fraa – wife
  • frieyaahr – spring
  • gaarde – garden
  • gaul – horse
  • 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 / gmayna – lowercase g is referring to the Amish community who worship together
  • Gmay – capital G is referring to worship/church services held bi-weekly (alternate spelling: Gmee)
  • Grundsatzen – affirmations of beliefs in the Amish church
  • gute – good (alternate spelling: gut)
  • gut daag – hello, good day (alternate spelling: gude daag, guder daag)
  • haus – house
  • hochmut – pride
  • ich – I
  • jah – yes (alternate spellings: ja, ya)
  • kind – child, kid
  • kinder – children (alternate spellings: kinner)
  • kinskind – grandchild
  • kinskinder – grandchildren
  • kumme – come (alternate spellings: kum, cum)
  • lieb – love
  • 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)
  • mei – my
  • nae – no (alternate spelling: nay)
  • naerfich – nervous
  • narrish – crazy
  • nochber – neighbor
  • oll recht – all right
  • oncle – uncle
  • Ordnung – the written and unwritten rules of the Amish; the understood behavior by which the Amish are expected to live, passed down from generation to generation. Most Amish know the rules by heart. These may differ slightly district to district.
  • Pennsylvania Deitsch – Pennsylvania German, the language most commonly used by the Amish
  • roasht – traditional main dish at an Amish wedding, consisting of cut-up chicken and stuffing
  • 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 spelling: Rumschpringe)
  • rutschich – squirming
  • schmunzla – kissing and cuddling
  • scholar – student (usually in elementary or grade school)
  • schnitzboi – snitz pie
  • schtinke – stink
  • schtore – store
  • 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).
  • sohn – son
  • vell – well
  • verhuddelt—confused (alternate spelling: ferhoodeled)
  • wunderbaar – wonderful (alternate spellings: wunderbar, wunderlich)
  • yet – used at the ends of sentences in place of words like “too” or “still”
  • youngie / die Youngie – the youth, usually referring to the older children / teenagers / unmarried young adults often in their Rumschpringe years
  • willkumme – welcome
  • wunderbaar – wonderful (alternate spellings: wunderbar, wunderlich)

PHRASES

  • ach du lieva – oh my goodness
  • dippy eggs – eggs cooked over easy
  • Er is en faehicher schreiner. – He is an able carpenter.
  • for sure and certain
  • Gott segen eich. – God bless you.
  • guder mariye – good morning
  • Ich saag dank am disch. – I offer thanks at the table.
  • in lieb – in love
  • it wonders me
  • mache gute – Have a good day.
  • oh help
  • oh, sis yuscht – oh no, oh darn
  • redd up – “ready up,” get ready
  • rutsching around – fooling around
  • wedding nothings – dessert reserved for weddings; fried pastries sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar
  • Wie bischt? – How are you?
  • wonderful gute (wonderful as a way of saying “very” can be placed in front of many words)

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

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