A bit of etymology

I wasn’t expecting a Pittsburgh-ese phrase to appear on the page, but there it was. There, in book of (fictional) letters between post-World War II England and one of the channel islands, between the words of proper English I expected to see, was a phrase I’d never, ever heard before I moved here.

“He was yelling to redd up the boat,” the sentence ran, the first time I’d seen “redd up” in print.

I’ve heard it before; it means to prepare, or clean up. You redd up your room, for example.

I’ve never seen it written.

He was in the other room, taking a break from school to celebrate another Pirates’ victory with a Bill Simmons podcast, but I made him turn it off.

“Either the author was from Pittsburgh, or someone emigrated from the channel islands to Pittsburgh and brought “redd up” with them,” I told him.

And I guess I wasn’t far off.

Apparently the phrase comes from Scotland and Ireland and northern England, and came with them to Pittsburgh. Apparently lots of Pittsburgh-ese originates there, words like slippy and n’at and y’inz.

And so it made perfect sense to be slipped into a letter from one fictional person to another. And I returned to my reading and he to his podcast and night fell a little deeper, heat giving way to a thick, sticky quiet of night.

So I learned something about the place I live from the pages of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ — and a little help from Wikipedia.

How the worlds collide, sometimes!


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