Mennonite Lexicon

Quilt exhibited at the bicentennial of Bossler Mennonite Church
Quilt exhibited at the bicentennial celebration at Bossler Mennonite Church

You won’t find the definitions for rumspringa or bundling, (often referring to the Amish) in this mini-dictionary of Pennsylvania Dutch words, but here are some expressions the Longeneckers and other Mennonite families in Lancaster County often used growing up in the 1950s and 60s:

The word “Dutch” is actually a misnomer. Many Pennsylvania Dutch settlers originated in Switzerland before migrating to Germany, not the Netherlands. Thus, “Dutch” may be a corruption of Deutsch (German for the word German).

(Spellings below are dubious, an amalgam of what sounds I heard and some expressions “translated” in modern media from the German.)

ach: variously paired with yes/no/not sure, meaning “yes, of course” and so on.

brutzing: as in “stop your whining, crying!”

dopplich: clumsy with yourself

daymedich: not too smart, slow-witted

ferhoodled: not neat, messy–as in a messy house

fire-ich-butz: one who “flies off the handle,” flares with anger

hipschick: snazzy looking, stylish in fashion. Referring to machinery: working well, no glitches

“It wonders me. . . .”  meaning, I wonder (Grandma Longenecker said this often.)

Kunst du Deutch schwetza: Do you speak Pennsylvania Dutch?

kutz: to vomit

nix nootz: mischievous child

rutschy: restless (something you shouldn’t be in church), squirmy. Also: “giegling,” as in “quit your giegling around,” wiggling on a chair at the table, or at a desk at school.

schmutzich: smeary, messy, or runny–like ice cream from a cone melting onto your fingers

schnickelfritz: troublemaker, usually referring to a child

schtrubelich: messy, uncombed hair

schuslich: in a hurry and leaving a mess behind

spritzing: raining lightly

shit-mo-link: Coined by my dad, a good Mennonite brother, who would never curse or use 4-letter words. His definition: Someone who caused him trouble in business; a crook. It’s only a guess, but his invented word could have originated from the Minneapolis Moline tractors he sold in his dealership, Longenecker Farm Supply:

Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge
Cultivating nearly 10 acres of land for our tomato crop in Bainbridge, PA with a Minneapolis Moline tractor

“Gay” (church): non-Mennonite church where people dressed fancy without coverings and cape dresses. Some daughters from the Alvin Longenecker clan got married in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, a dressy church in Elizabethtown, PA and wore lovely bridal gowns and shimmering veils at their weddings. As a plain Mennonite girl, I dreamed of having such a wedding. (Now “gay churches” often refer to churches who welcome alternative lifestyles.)

Interestingly, many of the words and expressions we used growing up express strong feelings. Many of them seem onomatopoeic to me now, the sound giving a hint to the meaning.

This listing is just a start. What words can you add to this lexicon? From the Pennsylvania Dutch?

From a different ancestry?

Join the conversation! I’d love to hear from you, and I will always reply.

*** Here is the link to my story set in Ukraine submitted to the My Gutsy Story Contest:


30 thoughts on “Mennonite Lexicon

  1. Marian – What an INTERESTING post! I enjoyed reading through the words and their meaning.

    I’m Scottish. When my mother said “sàth” we knew to STOP what we were doing IMMEDIATELY! It’s a Scottish Gaelic word that means ENOUGH! A single word that conveyed:

    “Young lady, if you push that envelop a gnat’s whisker further you’ll know what it’s like to see the face of God.”


    1. Such rich mixtures of language! I am glad we both have had the experience of a an ancestral language to spice things up a little! Question: Did your mother’s commands stop you in your tracks??


  2. Also remember hearing mom use the word nuddle which described a round, hard feces found on the floor which escaped from a diaper or also meant a woman’s hard, round knot of hair at nape of neck.


  3. I like Jean’s comment. Some of the things we remember, well. I still use some of those words like doplich or huddly or suchlich. How did you know the spelling of some of these. It seems like the right word to use at times.


    1. I agree, it does seem to be just the right expression for the moment. Thanks for adding three more, Shirley. I had some online help with the spelling but mostly just made an educated guess.


      1. My mom’s parents and all of her relatives spoke Yiddish, and she could speak it when she was younger. She was able to communicate by speaking Yiddish a few times when she was traveling, but she hardly remembers it now. My dad couldn’t really speak it, but they used it sometimes when we were little to talk in front of us so we wouldn’t understand. My mom said her parents sometimes spoke Russian if they didn’t want her to understand. She figured out the Russian word for ice cream though. 🙂 I wish these languages had been spoken and used with my generation.


  4. Our ancestors probably were sensitive about the second-language issue and may have been embarrassed about using their native language in an English-speaking culture. Whatever the reason, we are missing out that rich and colorful aspect of our heritage.


  5. What a fun post! I live in PA now but grew up in Ontario. I was surprised at how many of the expressions are familiar to me. My father loved the German language and often commented that some of the words could not be translated into the English language adequately. My favorite PA Dutch question is, “Kanst du micha fanga?” The answer is, “Ja, van zie hucka bliva!” (Please forgive spelling errors!)


  6. I hope you will translate this for us. You really piqued my interest with this Q & A, especially the “. . . hucka bliva” phrase.

    My dad used to say, “Kunst du deutch schwetza?” I think it meant something like “How are you doing? Of course who knows how close either of us is coming to the proper spelling here!


    1. My Dad also said “Kunst du dietsch schwetza” I thought he told me it means “Can you talk Dutch”, meaning Pennsylvania Dutch.


  7. Oh, I love these German derivative words!!! My mother (Esther Longenecker Hiestand) would often refer to my little brothers who were always in trouble schnickelfritz’s. She even called my daughter one on occasion. Often she would use ferhoodled when the house needed redd up!! Spritz and spigot just seemed like normal words that I thought everyone should know. My grandma (Anna -CJ) Hiestand would tell me don’t be so rutschy and threaten me that I would have to sleep somewhere else when taking an afternoon nap with her! My grandma Longenecker (PB Sr.) would often use schuslich, dopplich when we were working. Interesting that the female gender in my family seemed to propagate these words. I love your writings!! They promote so many memories. I didn’t know your family very well, but knew that your family lived across the street from Aunt Becky (Longencker).


  8. Thank you for poking around in my blog and landing here. I remember helping your Grandma (Kathryn Longenecker pick strawberries one summer, and I ate so many as I picked I feared your Grandma would spy me out of the kitchen window and tell me to stop!

    I often use your Mother’s Pitchforks and Pitchpipes text as reference for names and dates. Wonderful source of information.And I am happy my blog stimulates memories of your own. Feel free to add to the Mennonite lexicon. When you think of any, just reply here and I will include it on the original via an edit.


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