Dennis Roddy of the Post-Gazette looks in on the blog from time to time, and in a comment on my post about illiteracy at the P-G (a propos of the P-G sports headline "European deal needs discussed") he wrote:

"It is a legacy of Scots-Irish ancestors and a practice widespread not only in western Pennsylvania but, as I discovered, Northern Ireland. The car needs washed. The room needs cleaned. Similarly, our expression 'to redd up,' is used not by the Pennsylvania Dutch but by people in Belfast and mid-Ulster.

Now, as to whether we should be ashamed of using it, I can only say this: opinions vary. Generally, I've found editors from out-of-town to recoil at such usage, while locals are more receptive. Coming to town and encouraging Pittsburghers to be ashamed of themselves and their linguistic heritage is fairly common."

I'd respond in the comments, but then who knows who'd see it. So:

I'm not concerned with whether anyone should be ashamed of speaking this way. But the syntax should be recognized for what it is. It's not anyone's linguistic heritage, even if an academic linguist or an enterprising columnist can make the ancestral connection. It's local slang. People who live here pick it up from neighbors and friends and family, and they pass it on to their neighbors and friends and family, and they do that regardless of their ancestry. If it suits them and if they're proud of it, fine.

But slang doesn't belong in the newspaper, and especially not in the ostensible newspaper of record for a city that is desperately trying to modernize itself socially and economically. One of my parents spent 50 years in the newspaper business, as a writer and editor. Her father also spent 50 years in the newspaper business as a writer and editor. I've been around journalists and journalism all my life. I know better than to defend "redd up" in the newspaper as part of someone's "linguistic heritage."

Newspapers, as Mencken argued, are hardly bastions of standard English. Slang often enters the language via newsprint and stays there because the press institutionalizes it. So I'll leave the question here: If we want "European deal needs discussed" to become the right way to phrase that point, so that it is part of standard written and spoken English, then I should leave well enough alone. The P-G should modify its internal style manual. And we should be looking forward to the day that the Stillers redd up Heinz Field for the fall season.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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Pittsblog 2.0 has a motto: "It's steel good in Pittsburgh." Say it aloud, with a Pittsburgh accent.

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