To her grandchildren, Marie Fichthorn was Gramma.  She had a way with words.  Did Gramma make up her own language, or was she just speaking Pennsylvanian?  What’s the difference?


A woman’s head scarf, usually heavy and protective.  [Pittsburgh from Russian, grandmother, diminutive of baba, old woman]
Confined to bed; bedridden.  [From Old English bed and fæst, akin to German fest, firm, stable]
A beer spiked with a shot of whiskey.
Extremely tired; exhausted.  [Pennsylvania from bush, scrubby woodland from Middle English partly from Old English busc partly from Old French bois, wood (of Germanic origin) and partly of Scandinavian origin (Danish busk) possibly from Dutch bosch]
A woman’s head scarf, usually light and decorative.  [Women were obliged to cover their heads in Catholic churches before about 1970.  From English chiffon, rag from French from chiffe, old rag perhaps variant of Old French chipe, of Germanic origin]
A tall piece of furniture having drawers on one side and space for hanging clothes on the other.  [From French chiffonier, chest of drawers, originally ragpicker from chiffon, rag (see chiffon) and wardrobe (see wardrobe)]
To hit or punch with a quick, sharp blow.  [Middle English clippen, to shear from Old Norse klippa]
Lopsided; crooked; askew.
An indoor toilet.  [Pennsylvania from French from commode, convenient from Latin commodus]
commotion, “create a commotion”
An agitated disturbance.  [Middle English commocioun from Old French commotion from Latin commotio commotion- from commotus, past participle of commovere, to disturb]
Guests.  [Middle English compainie from Old French compaignie from Vulgar Latin *compania, literally group sharing bread]
conniption, “have a conniption”
A fit of violent emotion, such as anger or panic. Also called conniption  fit.  [Arbitrary pseudo-Latin coinage]
A large sofa.  [From the name of the original manufacturer]
dutch cleanser
An abrasive cleanser, now by trade names such as “Ajax” and “Spick-and-Span.”
epizooty, “catch the epizooty”
An epidemic disease among animals.  [French épizootie formed by analogy with épidémie from Greek epi, upon; zoion, animal]
federal case, “make a federal case out of it”
A major issue that has evolved from a minor problem or complaint.
five hundred
The card game rummy played to a score of five hundred points.
To move about rapidly and nimbly.  [Carlisle, Pennsylvania from Middle English flitten from Old Norse flytja, to carry about, convey]
An excessively fussy or fastidious person.  [Pennsylvania from English fuss 17th century slang, probably echoic]
A device or contrivance; a gadget.
A mixed drink; ginger ale with a shot of whiskey or beer with a shot of whiskey (see boilermaker).
Pompous or pretentious.  [Native U.S. word coined during the 19th-century.  It has been suggested that the second element, -falutin, comes from the verb flute—hence high-fluting, a comical indictment of one who thinks too highly of oneself.]
hoi polloi
The common people; the masses.  [Greek hoi, the many, nominative plural of ho and  polloi, nominative plural of polus, many]
Snobbish; condescending.  [From hoyden, a rude youth probably from Dutch heiden, heathen, boor from Middle Dutch]
horse around
To engage in rowdy or rough play.
A refrigerator.  [Originally an insulated chest or box into which ice is placed, used for cooling and preserving food]
An old, dilapidated automobile.  [Earlier jaloupy]
A type of hard, sugar candy made in spheres.  [Central Pennsylvania]
Untoasted bread with jelly.  [Central Pennsylvania]
A metal pot, usually with a lid, for boiling or stewing. [Middle English ketel from Old Norse ketill, Old English cetel both from Latin catillus, diminutive of catinus, large bowl]
To chat, converse.  [Yiddish kibitsen from German kiebitzen from Kiebitz, pewit, kibitzer from Middle High German gibitz, pewit, of imitative origin]
kibosh, “put the kibosh on”
squelch; veto.  [Originally nonsense earlier also kyebosh from Yiddish influenced by English by association with Turkish bosh, empty]
The white solid or semisolid rendered fat of a hog; shortening.
let go
To become unfastened.
To alight.  [Middle English lihten from Anglo-Saxon lihtan, lyhtan, to dismount, originally to relieve a rider’s burder from leoht, liht, light in weight]
loggerheads, “come to loggerheads”
Strong disagreement.  [From  logger, heavy block of wood and from blockhead, a stupid fellow]
The liquid obtained by leaching wood ashes; sodium hydroxide.  Now by trade names such as “Drano.”
monkey around
To fool around; to behave in a mischevious or apish manner.
monkey with
To trifle, meddle or tamper with.
To inflict a succession of petty annoyances.  [Probably short for French empestrer, to constrain, embarrass (probably also influenced by pest)]
pickle, “in a pickle”
A disagreeable or troublesome situation; a plight (see predicament).  [Perhaps under the influence of a similar Dutch usage in the phrase in de pekel zitten, “sit in the pickle,” and iemand in de pekel laten zitten, “let someone sit in the pickle.”  Middle English pikel, first recorded around 1400 with the meaning “a spicy sauce or gravy served with meat or fowl”]
Impaired by, or as if by, liquor.
An adhesive bandage.  [Middle English from Old English, medical dressing and from Old French plastre, cementing material both from Latin emplastrum, medical dressing from Greek emplastron from emplassein, to plaster on; plassein, to mold]
predicament, “in a predicament”
A situation, especially an unpleasant, troublesome, or trying one, from which extrication is difficult.  [Middle English from Late Latin praedicamentum from Latin praedicarePrae- before and dicare, to proclaim.]
putz around
To tinker.  [Pittsburgh probably imitative of Yiddish putz; probably from English putter, probably alteration of potter probably frequentative of Middle English poten, to poke, push from Old English potian]
redd, “redd up”
To clean, arrange or tidy.  [Pennsylvania from Scotland and Northern Ireland from Old Norse rydhja]
Rough play.
A paper bag used as a sack.
To scrub one’s body or teeth.  [Pittsburgh from Middle English scrobben, to currycomb a horse from Middle Dutch schrobben, to clean by rubbing, scrape]
A cast iron frying pan.  [From Middle English skelet from Old French escuelete, diminutive of escuele, plate from Latin scutella, diminutive of scutra, platter]
A water faucet. [Pennsylvania from English spigot from Middle English perhaps from Old French *espigot diminutive of Old Provençal espiga, ear of grain from Latin spica]
A small open porch.  [Northeastern United States from Dutch stoep, front verandah from Middle Dutch]
Not homemade.
A metal can, especially for preserving food.  [Originally from plating steel with tin to prevent corrosion]
tin foil
Aluminum foil, usually to wrap food.  [Originally made of tin or a tin-lead alloy]
Foolish behavior.  [From Tom Fool, as in Tom o’Bedlam, poor Tom, names formerly applied to the demented and retarded]
A tall, movable cabinet provided with hangers, etc., for holding clothes. [Middle English warderobe from Old French warderobe from warder, to watch, keep, preserve and robe]
You, plural. [From Middle Course of the Susquehanna and West to the State Line you’ins, you’uns, yunz; akin to Southern United States y’all]


Looks like a dog’s breakfast
Livin’ high on the hog
Put the fire on
Keep your shirt on
We’re not real particular, We’re not real fussy
It’ll keep
Knock  for a loop, Throw for a loop
Sing for your supper
Now you’re cookin’
Burn the lights
Burnin’ daylight
Go to pot, Go to seed
Go to town
Too rich for my blood
Crack a window
Put you in the poorhouse, Leave you in the poorhouse
Get out of the road
Cock of the walk
Look at television
A run for your money
Up to par
As a rule
Talk a blue streak
Know the score
Stir up
Keyed up
sock (punch)
Too big for your britches
Hold your horses
Two shakes of a lamb's tail
Shut up and deal
Sight for sore eyes
By itself
In the doghouse
Right as rain
Hot as blazes
Fit to be tied


“to” or “of” to  indicate a time before the hour [Pennsylvania], for example:
“ten to four” – ten minutes before four o’clock.
“quarter of” (often without reference to the hour) – fifteen minutes before the hour.
In reply to the use of a highfalutin term, the sarcastic use of that term as an address, for example:
“Gramma, the egg cooks faster because of the pan’s high thermal conductivity.”
“Hey thermal conductivity, watch what you’re doin’ or you’ll burn my egg.”

Outside Links