Appalachian Dialect

Red Off the Table

two girls cleaning a room

Last week  Joe Chumlea left this comment:

“Have you ever heard the term “red off”, as in when I was a kid I had to red off the table after dinner?”

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For years I read the word red or redd in books used in exactly the manner Joe described, but had never heard it used.

About a year or so ago I was getting my hair cut and my hairdresser said she told her kids to red up the window sills in the kitchen. I almost jumped out of the chair! I said “What did you say?” She said “Oh I know my kids make fun of me all the time for saying words like red, but I’ve always used them. Guess I got them from my grandparents.”

I assured her I wasn’t making fun of her, I was just tickled to death to hear someone use the word red in that manner right here in my own county.

She is probably about seven to ten years younger than I am and was raised in Cherokee County NC just like I was. I’m still thrilled I heard her use the word and hope those kids end up saying it themselves even if they do make fun of their momma for saying it.

redd, redd off, redd up, rid up verb, verb phrase To clean or tidy (a room or object), set in order, clear debris from, arrange, Of the variants, redd up is the  most common. Its past-tense form is redd up (see 1938, 1940 citations).

1886 Smith Southern Dialect 349 They all have the authority of old or dialect English, or many of them belong to all parts of the South, if not elsewhere…red (to put in order—as, “red a room”). 1913 Kephart Our Sthn High 83 Then that tidal wave of air swept by. The roof settled again with only a few shingles missing. We went to “redding up.” 1925 Dargan Highland Annals 208 An’ ever’ dish an’ pot to be washed, an’the house to redd up, all before I can begin a day’s work. 1930 (in 1952 Mathes Tall Tales 168) This bit of social and domestic philosophy brought no audlble response from the busy wife, who was briskly “ridding up” the bed. 1938 Justus No-End Hollow 130 I mean to wash and redd up the house before I do any special cooking. c1940 Aswell Glossary Tenn Idiom 15 red up = tidy, clean. “She red up the house for the family reunion.” c1959 Weals Hillbilly Dict 7 Red off the table right atter we eat. 1962 Dykeman Tall Woman 201 Why, if a Northern schoolmaster comes, he might want to live with his family in the Burkes’ old house, and maybe we could redd up the old mill house. 1966 DARE redd up = to put a room in order (Burnsville NC, Spruce Pine NC). 1974 Fink Bits Mt Speech 22 = arrange, make tidy. “Set here while I red up the room.” 1975 Purkey Madison Co 37 Pile ’em half a kettle high so’s the water’ll be boilin’ hot by the time I get the milk strained and vessels washed and scaled, and the house rid up a little.

[redd <Middle English redden prob <Middle Low German/Middle Dutch reden; OED Scot and north dialect; OED redd “to put in order to make neat or trim” obsolete except dialect; SND redd 7(1) “of a room, building; to tidy (up)” and rid up ; CUDD redd 2 “clear, tidy up,” rid 1 “set in order”; Web 3 chiefly dialect; DARE = clear off a table chiefly North Midland, esp Pennsylvania, Ohio, Appalachians]

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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redd (v.)
early 15c., “to clear” (a space, etc.), from Old English hreddan “to save, free from, deliver, recover, rescue,” from Proto-Germanic *hradjan. Sense evolution tended to merge with unrelated rid. Also possibly influenced by Old English rædan “to arrange,” related to Old English geræde, source of ready (adj.).

A dialect word in Scotland and northern England, where it has had senses of “to fix” (boundaries), “to comb” (hair), “to separate” (combatants), “to settle” (a quarrel). The exception to the limited use is the meaning “to put in order, to make neat or trim” (1718), especially in redd up, which is in general use in England and the U.S. Use of the same phrase, in the same sense, in Pennsylvania Dutch may be from cognate Low German and Dutch redden, obviously connected historically to the English word, “but the origin and relationship of the forms is not clear” [OED].

Online Etymology Dictionary 

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Now that Joe has reminded me of the red word usage I’m going to try my best to add it to my daily conversations. In fact I’m going to go red up the kitchen right now.

Tipper

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Tamela
    January 25, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    This is a late post (no time to read daily these days) and may never be attended to, but this blog post stirred up all sorts of memories. Mom’s side of the family doesn’t know much of their history except that her Dad’s side (she thought) were Pennsylvania Dutch. Dad’s side (mostly German, Swiss, Prussian) had folks coming in through New York and what is now West Virginia (still a lot of distant kinfolk there), Pennsylvania, and Iowa with both sets of ancestors ending up in Kansas. To make the long of it short, I’ve heard (from both sides of the family) and used “ready up”, “make ready”, “reddyin’ up” and occasionally “redden up” or “red up” always in reference to that final bit of tidying or straightening when getting ready for church or for guests .
    Now – does anyone out there use “fixin’ to get ready to”?

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    January 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    Yes! I have heard and used it all my life, but always red up and not red off.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    January 23, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    Dear Tipper, I have heard the word used but not often. I think in my mind I thought “to redd up a room, was to rid it of clutter.”

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 23, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    You’ve finally got me on one, I’ve never heard “red or redd” used in this connotation.

    • Reply
      Melinda
      January 29, 2020 at 3:47 am

      Just what I thought, Paula. Glad to find out you, also got that understanding

  • Reply
    Dee
    January 23, 2020 at 11:38 am

    Never ever heard that word from my scotch-irish, english grandparents or my parents or any southern relative BUT have when our jobs took us to south central Pennsylvania. I was over at my dearest sweetest next door neighbor’s house and as I was leaving to go home she said she had to red up the place. Being new to the neighborhood, I was too shy to ask her but I assumed she meant to clean up the house. As we became great friends, I heard her use that word many times and found out that she was German and had been raised in Altona, PA., and had lived there until her husband’s job was transferred to this area. She would also say cut off the light – LOL – to me that would be dangerous, I would prefer to say turn off the light. Lancaster, PA., is about an hour North of us and you will hear the Amish use red up and cut off the light all the time. It’s times like this that I wish I could talk to my dear grandmothers and ask if they had ever used that word or heard it used. I always heard clean up or spruce up.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    January 23, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Never heard this knew Tipper. Its new to me. Well, i’ve been redding all morning and im pooped.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 23, 2020 at 9:56 am

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read red or redd used to mean to clean or tidy up.
    In the same vein though, everyone knows how to make up a bed but not everyone makes it down. Do you?

    • Reply
      aw griff
      January 23, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      No Ed I never made one down but I have had my bed thrown down when in the army. Mattress and all when it wasn’t made up right.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 23, 2020 at 9:27 am

    Completely new one to me.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    January 23, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Tipper,
    The next time I speak to my oldest daughter, if I can remember, I’m going to see if she knows the word-Redd. Besides homeschooling her two girls, she is a Reader. She’s not a “know it all”, but she reads alot and can join in on most conversations whenever they arise. Talk about planning, her and Steve went to Chapel Hill and their girls, Ellie and Annabelle has the same Birthday, only 4 years between them. …Ken

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    January 23, 2020 at 9:15 am

    I’ve never heard “red up” until today, but I have heard and used spruce up. I enjoy your posts about language use. It’s the retired teacher in me.

  • Reply
    JustAnOldGuy
    January 23, 2020 at 9:09 am

    Trout and “redd”. When spawning, female trout scoop out a depression in loose gravel and stones, deposit their fertilized eggs and then cover them with more loose material from the stream bed. The completed structure is called a redd.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    January 23, 2020 at 8:45 am

    Just like Ron Stephens, I’m familiar with spruce up but I don’t remember hearing red up in my part of E.KY.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 23, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Tipper–I reckon my mountain linguistic education has some glaring gaps, because I’ve never heard the word red (or redd) in this context. Furthermore, although I read a great deal, I don’t recall ever having encountered it in print in this context. Redds–yes. They are the egg-laying areas made by trout and salmon. But this one has me bumfoozled, bamboozled, buffaloed, and befuddled. That’s good, because it’s a fine reminder that the linguistic classroom (and other ones on mountain days and ways) never closes
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 23, 2020 at 8:21 am

    I am still redding up the house. I remember my Mother telling me if I didn’t red up my room she would shut the door so no one could see it. I have always used that word and so did my Mother and Grandmother. We are German & scotch/Irish from Penna.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 23, 2020 at 8:06 am

    I never heard that word growing up in southeastern KY, at least not to recall it. If it had been in anything like common use I’m sure I would have heard it from my Grandma or my great aunts or uncles. I only became aware of it in later years through reading about Appalachia. Closest thing I can recall is “spruce up” a place or a person.

    I wonder if the “uncertain” mention in the OED might support the idea that “redd” descended through one particular ethnicity, such as Scotch or German, and was not in widespread use through the entire population? Guess we’ll never know.

    • Reply
      aw griff
      January 23, 2020 at 8:53 am

      Ron, I was wondering if the area of E.KY. you were raised in was the same as NE.KY. in the way you spell your name? We have Stephens and also Stevens. Around Ashland we have both spellings but in Elliot Co. it is mostly Stevens.

      • Reply
        Ron Stephens
        January 23, 2020 at 4:34 pm

        Nope AW. All the ones I ever knew of in McCreary County was “Stephens”. There were, and are, a bunch of them. I recall my Mom saying something over 50 years ago that at that time there were 57 Stephens listings in the phone book. Had there been a “Stevens” around, it would have been a cause for remark.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    January 23, 2020 at 7:55 am

    My family has always said “rid up” (West Virginia). I guess it could be just another way of pronouncing it.

  • Reply
    carol harrison
    January 23, 2020 at 7:32 am

    “Red up” was a clue on Law and Order years ago. It’s what solved the crime when used by the culprit and Bobby knew when it was used in the questioning. I heard this used my whole life being raised in Western Pa. I still say it and “run the sweeper”, not vacuum.

  • Reply
    sheryl paul
    January 23, 2020 at 7:31 am

    I heard in from a lady in Murphy, funny enough Conner she was from PA

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 23, 2020 at 7:00 am

    Tip, I’ve heard this expression, to red up the place, but only rarely. I can’t even remember the context where I heard it. I just remember hearing and knowing the meaning of it.
    I love our way of using language to meet our needs!

  • Reply
    joyce
    January 23, 2020 at 6:54 am

    i grew up in western pennsylvania and we always were told to redd up our rooms or redd up our messes.

  • Reply
    Connor Sites-Bowen
    January 23, 2020 at 6:42 am

    To “redd up” is still a common Pittsburgh phrase – somewhere north of tidying but south of thorough cleaning. Making a room “ready” for guests to see it was how it was explained to me when I moved to the Paris of Appalachia back in 2004.

  • Reply
    Ava
    January 23, 2020 at 6:29 am

    I have seen it in books but never heard it. Do you think it might come from “to make ready”?

    • Reply
      Connor Sites-Bowen
      January 23, 2020 at 7:38 am

      The phrase being derived from “to make ready” was how it was explained to me by the first Pittsburgh neighbor I asked about it, but that may be a folk etymology. My understanding from the “Pittsburghese” literature is that Pittsburgh picked the phrase up from the same Scots-Irish migrations mentioned in the dictionary listings above, so those origins obtain Appalachia-wide.

      A local radio segment from a few years back that dives into the city’s accent: https://www.wesa.fm/post/redd-your-pittsburghese-deep-dive-how-yinz-talk#stream/0

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