Trying to Red Up the House

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, August 17, 1912:  We had to keep house today because Ma and Pa and the kid went to a reunion up at Muncy. Was working all morning a trying to get house red up somewhat.

Recent photo of the house that Grandma lived in when she was writing the diary.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma and her sister Ruth would have been home alone. The probably had to do both household and farm chores.

The kid refers to their 7-year-old brother, Jimmie

I think that “red up” is an old rural Pennsylvania (probably Pennsylvania Dutch) term that means tidy up.

When things are scattered around my house, I’ll say to my family, “We need to red up the house.”

Since we both grew up in central Pennsylvania he’d know exactly what I meant—though our children would roll their eyes.

29 thoughts on “Trying to Red Up the House

  1. I grew up with this saying, so smiling here! Maybe it’s short for “ready-up” the house? Love the photo! (And I ended up taking a different route last month to visit my folks, so wasn’t near your grandmother’s neck of the woods. Next time!)

  2. I am sure Helena and Ruth also rolled their eyes! My aunt still did up until she passed away at age 85 a few months daughter takes after her!! LOL Blessings – Patty

  3. In our family the phrase was “red the table.” I always thought it was Pennsylvania Dutch, as my grandfather’s people came from there and it appears that there was a strong Mennonite factor in the 1700s. On the other hand, I saw the same phrase used in a book by Sharyn McCrumb, a novelist who writes about Appalachia and the Scots-Irish, and she thought it was a Scots-Irish term.

    What I know is that the term has come down from my mothers side which had both Pennsylvania Dutch and Scots-Irish lineage, and I have used the term all my life, to the hilarity of my children — i.e, ” What does “red the table mean, Mom” — followed by peels of giggles.

    1. I also tend to think of the term as being Pennsylvania Dutch in a very broad sense (not just Amish or Mennonite–but a broader group of people with a German background). Interesting how Sharyn McCrumb thought it was Scot-Irish.

    2. You are correct it is a Scots/Irish term. It comes from the Danish term ryddy op which means clean up. It entered in the English language about 1000 years ago. It is refered to as “middle english.” The Scots and Irish brought it over and any where they settled to work in the mines through out the North East you find it said even today. I ran into the explaination when I was writing my blog on City Chicken. I still redd up my house. You hear it said all over Western Pa and West Va.

  4. Without reading the other comments (I’ll read them when I’ve posted)… I think “red-up” is short of “ready” “Make ready”….

  5. From Pa Dutch for sure. Tidy up means to put things back where they go but red up is broader and includes to clean things if necessary as well

    1. Thanks for clarifying. I grew up using the term, and had never really thought about the distinction between putting things away and cleaning – but you are absolutely right, we do both when we “red up.”

  6. My Scots-Irish/English Granny said that about housework. Red up the house before we can go to town on Saturday. 🙂 She was born in 1893 and lived to be 103 years old.

    1. Wow, your grandmother lived a long life. She must have had good genes. My family red up the house, too – often before we expected visitors (or, as we called them, company).

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