The Grammarphobia Blog

Reddy or not!

Q: I spent 20 years in the Pennsylvania Dutch area of York-Lancaster, PA. Some old-time residents there consistently use the term “ret up” to mean clean up, as in “ret up the table” after dinner. Can tell me where this term originated?

A: The verbal phrase “redd up” (also seen as “red up,” “ret up,” and even “rid up”) has its roots in a Middle English verb redden, which meant to rescue or free from, or to clear. Today, “redd up” means to clear an area or make it tidy.

The terms “redd” and “redd up” came to the American Midlands with the many Scottish immigrants who settled there, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).

The word “redd” is still used in Scotland (and Northern Ireland), the dictionary says, and it’s especially common in Pennsylvania in the expression “redd up.”

Anyone who lives in Pittsburgh is familiar with the term. The city’s annual campaign against litter is called “Let’s Redd Up Pittsburgh.”

But you don’t have to be from Pennsylvania to redd up. The residents of the Shetland Islands, off northern Scotland, call their annual cleanup “Da Voar Redd Up” (“The Spring Clean Up”).

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