Words of Pennsylvania
Last week’s post on words born in California caused me to wonder about words that began their lives (as English words) in other states. So why not Pennsylvania?
Pennsylvania was home to a group of German immigrants known in the region as Pennsylvania Dutch. Heaps of fascinating words made their way into English through this group of folks. One such word is the verb ferhoodle, to confuse or perplex. Ferhoodle didn’t make its way into English until 1956 & came through what linguists call Pennsylvania German (when the Pennsylvania German folks mentioned their homeland – Deutschland - it sounded like Dutch to somebody).
In 1830 the word hex showed up in English, courtesy of this same group of people. The original German word was hexe, to practice witchcraft. It was used in English initially as a synonym to the noun witch, but later grew to mean magical spell.
In 1919 the word dunk showed up in the language, meaning to dip. Its Pennsylvania German source word meant to soak. Dunk made its way into the world of basketball in 1937.
But not all Pennsylvania-born words come via those early German settlers.
Bits of seasoned pork dipped into cornmeal, fried and pressed into cakes are known as scrapple, a take-off on the word scraps, most likely from Old Norse, & born in Pennsylvania about 1850.
One of the native Iroquois tribes of Pennsylvania loaned its tribal name to the conestoga wagon in the 1750s. Later, an abbreviation of the word conestoga came to mean cigar. First known as stoga & later as stogie or stogy, the cigar was thus named due to conestoga drivers’ fondness for cheap cigars.
Our present meaning of the word cent came to English during the 1786 Continental Congress in Pennsylvania. Though from the times of Middle English cent (borrowed from Latin) had meant hundred, the Continental Congressfolk wanted to move away from the Revolutionary & Colonial dollars being divided into ninetieths (no kidding), so they embraced the suggestion of Robert Morris that they divide the dollar into one hundredths and label those hundredths with the word cent. The story is that the related word percent influenced Morris’s thinking.
And in 1965, Pennsylvanian Pauline M. Leet coined the word sexist by combining the word sex with the intent of the –ist from racist. Leet was the Director of Special Programs at Franklin & Marshall College. When her coined word hit the presses in the 1968 book by Caroline Bird, Born Female, it became a part of American parlance.
If you have anything to say about Pennsylvania &/or its contributions to English, please do so below in comments.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam Webster, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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