Southern Somerset County Colloquialisms

Both of my parents are from the geographically isolated southern part of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, and many of my relatives still live there. As a result of the isolation and the German heritage, there are words and sayings that are used there, or were used there when my parents or grandparents were young, that may not be used elsewhere. This is my attempt to document the ones that I can remember. The spelling is how I imagine it, because some of these words don’t normally exist in printed form. If family members can help me recall more of these words and sayings, I would sure appreciate it.

A-goin—As in "He would get a-goin on so", or "until we would get it a-goin". In the first example, it means to blabber on about something. In the second example, it means to get something operating or moving. As with most words ending in "ing", the "g" sound isn't pronounced in "going", and it becomes "goin". (Being a descendant, I don't pronounce the "g" sound either, unless I really think about it.)

Caint—A contraction for "can not"; an alternative to can't.

Dares'nt—Must not, should not. My aunt and uncle use this word regularly. According to my mother, her mother Gladys used it.

Hai'nt—As used in Somerset County, this often means “is not” or "have not". For example, a person might say “That haint so” or "I haint seen it". One source that I saw indicated that this word dates back to 1830-1840, and was originally a contraction of “have not” and “has not”, but its usage has been influenced by the word “ain’t”. I use “haint” occasionally on purpose in informal jesting as a display of my mountain roots.

Hommie—In the Korns family, the word “hommie” means “calf”, and was used regularly when I was a child (and I think it is still in occasional use). My grandmother or mother told me that it was a surviving Pennsylvania German word. The word meant nothing to one German native that I asked.

Hootchie—My mother tells me that “hootchie” is a word that was once used by the family to mean “colt”. My grandmother or mother told me that it was a Pennsylvania German word. The word meant nothing to one German native that I asked.

Huckster—To sell a product, such as farm produce, door-to-door.

Knee-high by the Fourth of July—This saying is used to judge how well a crop of corn is growing; the crop should be “knee high by the fourth of July”. I think this saying is well known, but I’ve sure heard it a lot in Somerset County, where altitude affects the growing season.

Mebee—Maybe.

Polecat—Skunk.

Pretn'ear—This word means “nearly”, and seems to me to obviously be a contraction of “pretty near”. I was about 35 or 40 before I realized that “pretn'ear” wasn’t really a word. Someone at the engineering firm where I am employed asked me to spell it, then I realized that my rural Pennsylvania roots were showing. This is one of those words that I have used so much in my lifetime that it is difficult to eradicate from my speech.

Redd—As used by my family, this means “clean” or “rid”. I first learned that this was not a normal word shortly after I married my first wife, who was from western Pennsylvania (Mercer). I said something like “I need to redd up the room”, and she had no idea what I meant. When I expained what "redd" meant, she said that the proper word was “rid”. I didn’t believe her until I discovered that “redd” wasn’t in the dictionary, but “rid” was. This is one of the colloquialisms that I just cannot shake, and I still tell my son “You need to redd up your bedroom”.

Ruetching—This is another word that I can’t get out of my vocabulary. It means “squirming”, and the way I heard it as a child, was “Stop reutching around” or “Stop that reutching around”. I confirmed with a German-born person that this is a German word, however I don’t know how it is really spelled in German.

Schnicklefritz—Schnicklefritz is a term of endearment that my mother frequently uses to describe her grandchildren. For example, “How’s my little schnicklefritz?” or "Are you my little schnicklefritz?”. I don’t believe that I have ever asked her what it means, but for some reason I get the impression that she means something like “How is my cute, lovable little rascal?”.

Tonic—Tonic is a word that my grandmother Gladys (Bittner) Korns used for soda pop in the 1960's, however by then she was aware that it was a local colloquialism. I can distinctly remember going with her to Mutt’s store in Wellersburg for tonic when I was young.

Wrench—This is a word that, according to my great aunt Mildred, my great-grandmother (her mother) Ida Ada (Petenbrink) Bittner always used to mean “rinse” (As in “I still have to go and wrench the laundry”). According to Mildred, her mother Ida “…never used the word rinse”. I have an extremely faint memory of encountering “wrench” in this context as a child, and having it explained to me—possibly by my Grandmother Gladys (Bittner) Korns. On the other hand, when asked in 2009, my mother Estalene did not recall this colloquialism.

What fer—As in "What fer truck do you have?" This one has been hard for me to eradicate from my speech here in Texas. When I asked someone "What fer truck do you have?" today on the telephone, he gave me the usual Texas answer: What? Unthinkingly, I repeated the sentence verbatum, and he incredulously said "What?" again.

Now we're cookin with coal oil!—Now we are really doing things the modern way! or Now we really have things working easily/smoothly! (These interpretations are my own, based on context.)

Return to the Korns family genealogy home page