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An Adventure in Pittsburghese

Thirteen Hundred Old Time Words

Thirteen Hundred Old Time Words Of British, Continental or Aboriginal Origins, still or recently in use among the Pennsylvania Mountain People. Compiled by Henry W. Shoemaker. Altoona, PA : Times Tribune Press, 1930. Edited & abridged by Barry Chad, Pennsylvania Department.

The Pennsylvania Indians coined a tradition that as there were thirteen original Indian tongues in Pennsylvania there would be thirteen white men's tongues in the same area. Today there are two, or possibly three languages recognized in various parts of Pennsylvania, and probably ten or a dozen others spoken by good-sized foreign groups. The mountain people of most mixed origins speak the language of colonial times. The "State" languages of Pennsylvania are English and Pennsylvania Dutch, while in a large section of Clearfield County the pure French of Picardy is spoken. Foreign language groups mostly in the larger cities speak German, Italian, Norse, Sclavonic, Bulgarian, Greek, etc. In the language of the mountain people are preserved many words long out of use in modern conversational intercourse. Thirteen hundred of these words have been collected first hand, and are presented in the ensuing pages. They are mostly of English origin; a few of them were familiar in Chaucer's day, more in Shakespeare's; next in number are of Gaelic roots, brought into Ireland by Highlanders, who settled there after the Battle of the Boyne, or real "Erse" from the Irish Indian fighters of Revolutionary days. Other words are of German, Dutch, French or Shekener (Pennsylvania German Gipsy) beginnings, while a few harken back to times of aboriginal associations and intermarriages with the whites. These words are passing out of use very rapidly, as the good roads, automobiles, picture shows and radios "standardize" the Pennsylvania mountain people. G. Howland Shaw, noted authority on the Near East, has spoken of the 'Westernization of Eastern Europe." It is sweeping on, unseen, but overwhelming all like a great cultural undertow. The standardization by personal contacts with the "outside" will sweep out the old words and old ways of the Pennsylvania mountain people faster than the schools. Mountain school teachers in Pennsylvania have nearly always been mountain bred, of the locality, and of the venacular [sic] born; they were never a levelling force like the outside contacts brought by good roads. Today to find a really remote section of Pennsylvania is impossible since the Sproul road system has sent its shining concrete arteries into the innermost depths of our mountains. They go to the Three Runs of Clearfield County, into the Seven Mountains, New Lancaster Valley, Havice Valley, Treaster Valley and Graybill Valley, the White Mountains of Union County, the Black Forest in the North Tier, into the sequestered nooks of the Blue Mountains, the several ranges of Buffalo Mountains, the Irvin Mountains, the Blouser Mountains, and even to Spechty Kup and the various Council Kups. A new language will replace the quaint direct speech which lasted a century and a half; it began with the first permanent settlements in the mountains, by persons of mixed origins, who soon exchanged words, as they exchanged folk-lore or "fires," it will end when there will be a filling station and a hot-dog stand on every mountain pass; that bids fair to be very soon for they are already established at "Hairy John's." And with the passing of natural untouched scenery, go natural, unspoiled people speaking a language direct and friendly, where every word meant exactly what it said.

Henry W. Shoemaker
Department of State,
Washington, D. C.
February 7, 1930.

Original Introduction.
"By rights," to use a Pennsylvania mountain expression, the work of collecting and compiling the ensuing lists of archaic, obsolete and half-forgotten words of the Pennsylvania mountain people should have been commenced in 1900, when the compiler first began to take a deep interest in the language of the hill country. It was not until twenty-five years later that he began to write them down, partly when he heard them, and partly from memory. As a result of these activities a collection of upwards of a thousand words is presented.

Most of these words are on the verge of complete disuse, due to being laughed out of existence by visitors from towns, motorists, salesmen and school teachers with modern linguistic trainings. Good schools, good roads, good educations, all have quickly wiped out the pretty and simple language of other years.

There was a peculiarly direct simplicity in the language of the Pennsylvania mountaineers as they were when this writer commenced to notice them as a "class" over thirty years ago. Their language was limited to fewer words, but every word was fraught with complete meaning, was picturesque and colorful. Though English was the prevailing tongue because it was the sole language taught in the "little red schoolhouses,"--there actually were such things--few mountaineer families but possessed a strain of Indian, or Alsatian, or Swiss, or North Italian, or Moravian Gipsy or Near Eastern blood, and with those admixtures their English, Welsh or Ulster Scottish strains brought in words entirely un-Anglo Saxon or Celtic.

There are many of such Continental and a few aboriginal words in the following lists. There has been no attempt to classify them as to roots or nationality; this writer is a folk-lorist, and, unfortunately, not a learned philologist. Some words are given that are still in use because in the vernacular of the Pennsylvania mountain people they have been given different meanings from the definitions known to followers of Webster or Funk & Wagnalls. All the words have been recorded for what they are worth, to show a picture of how the hardy pioneers of upland Pennsylvania expressed themselves in the days of old.

Henry W. Shoemaker
"Restless Oaks,"
McElhattan, Pa., March l, 1925

Words, slang, and vulgarisms, mostly of British origins, used by the Mountain People of Central Pennsylvania.

All: completed, gone. "The candy is all."
Aethecite: a mean, eccentric person.
Adams ale: water.
Antic: odd, full of tricks.
Apple-pie order: everything in good condition.
Afterclap: a child born long after its brothers and sisters.
A---e love: carnal love, as differing from spiritual love.
Abracadabra: Cabalistic letters carved on the ends of house, or barns to keep away evil spirits.
Ark: a house built on a raft, the floating board house of the crew of a log drive.
A floating stable for horses, "Horse ark."
Apple-cart: "upset his apple-cart," to trip or cause a person to fall.
Ary: either.
Atop: on, or at the top.
Ape in hell: "Go lead an ape in hell." A term of reproach or contempt.
Axe: to ask.
Article: "favorite article", or "slick article",
a person who needs watching, suspected of varied misdeeds.
Angels: gold coins occasionally put in the collection boxes at churches by rural aristocrats.
Accident: an unwanted child.
Algerine: to unlawfully cut timber on another's property.
Ace of spades: a blackhaired, blackeyed mountain girl.
Animule: a crippled, aged horse; less than a horse but four-legged.
Anent: opposite.
Alligator:: a large salamander formerly numerous in West Branch of Susquehanna;
destroyed by industrial pollution.
Allow: "I'll allow", to grant, or admit such is the case.
All to smash: gone into bankruptcy, wrecked, ruined.
Ark: a rainbow (Arc en Ciel: French.)
Alter: to castrate.
A body: a person.
Arsle: to sit unquietly.

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