Confusing Words Language Tips

Figures of Speech: Walking and Running

Pennsylvania Dutch uses some figures of speech that involve walking and running that are similar to English — how are they different?

Many Pennyslvania Dutch figures of speech are similar to ones in English; but often slightly different. This is true when it comes to talking about things that are said to “run” in English.

In English, some things are said to run—even though they don’t have legs.

  • A river or stream runs
  • Tears can run down your face
  • Liquids can run over (as in overflow)

But in Pennsylvania Dutch, those inanimate objects (things without real legs) are usually said to ‘walk’ (lawfa).


  • A river walks
    Da revvah lawft.
    Di revvahra lawfa deich di valley.
    Da revvah is gloffa biss’s ufgedrikkeld vadda is.
  • Tears walk down someone’s face
    ’S awwa-vassah lawft ivvah iahra bakka nunnah.
  • When water or liquids overflow in Deitsh, they “walk over”
    ’S vassah is am ivvah-lawfa!
    Da revvah zayld ivvah-lawfa noch da shtoahm.


There are a couple of exceptions.

  1. Motors and equipment do “run” (shpringa) in Pennsylvania Dutch (generators, refrigerators, washing machines, motors, and cars and trucks)
  2. Of course, animals and people who can literally “run” and “walk” (they have legs) still shpringa and lawfa in Pennsylvania Dutch.

These differences in figures of speech are a reminder of the unique culture and thinking of native Pennsylvania Dutch speakers.