Saloma Miller Furlong
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Pennsylvania German Proverbs

As I dig deeper into the literature of the Pennsylvania German heritage so as to get a better sense of the culture from which the Amish emerged, I am enjoying fun reading. I just borrowed a book Proverbs of the Pennsylvania Germans by Edwin Miller Fogel from the Five College Library system Some of these sayings are funny, others are philosphical, and still others are mind twisters. But nearly all of them remind me of what it was like to "think Amish."

The book is organized alphabetically by stichwort (key word). So far I'm only into the Bs, but I've come across several that I marked to share here on my blog. These are written in the dialect, in English, and in High German. In some of the cases below, I changed a word or two in English when I didn't agree with the author's translation.

For easy reference, I'm putting the sayings in bold print.

Most people have heard the proverb, "The apple does not roll far from the tree" as a way of saying that someone is like his or her parent. How is this for a variant of that?

"The apple does not roll far from the tree except when the tree stands on a hillside." So does this mean that there are times when we don't turn into our parents? If so, it seems it has to do with the parents' vantage point. That turns the modern parenting way of thinking upside down — we think it has more to do with our sons' and daughters' life choices than our our parenting.

I like this one, "Wann der appel mol zeitich is fallt er runna" (When an apple is ripe, it will fall.) 

This one is most ironic: "Most-careful fell down the steps and broke is neck."

Here is one that is a bit more optimistic than some: "Well begun is half done."

This one is a man's way of thinking, "It costs nothing to take a look." I'm thinking it has to do with looking at women, but I could be wrong.

The author claims that some of these sayings overlap with sayings from English-speakers, so it's hard to know their true source. I found one like that. I've been watching the Lark Rise to Candleford series, which is based on Flora Thompson's autobigraphical novel of the same name. I found a proverb in Fogel's book that corresponds to something the narrator said in Lark Rise. "To be poor is no disgrace but inconvenient."

Here is one that I've often realized, but maybe not in such pithy words: "Better to be poor and healthy than sick and wealthy."

And here is one more that deals with wealth and poverty: "Arm oder reich, der Dod macht alle gleich" (Rich or poor, death makes us all the same).

This is a very Amish way of thinking: "Rest goes well when the work is done."

And so is this: "When you love what you do, it is not work."

Here is one that was used to describe parents' responsibility of raising their children. And for the parents who were so inclined, I'm afraid it gave them permission to be forceful: "Bend the tree when it is young because you can't when it's old."

This one is often used at Amish funerals to remind people that they need to be prepared to die at any time: "As the tree falls, so will it lie."

Most of these sayings are more poetic or pithy in German than they are in English. but here is one I actually liked the English version better. It is poetic and it paints a vivid picture in my mind, "The higher the mountain, the deeper the valley."

I saved the mind-twister until last: "If it does no good, it will do no harm."

If you can interpret this one, please let me know.

So here are a few proverbs that took me down memory lane or made me think in a new way.

Do you have a favorite saying?


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