Be dank / donk mich

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Yesterday morning I ate breakfast at a Cracker Barrel in Canton, Ohio and in mid-afternoon I had an early dinner at a Dutch Pantry off Route 80 in Pennsylvania.  When the waitress gave me the bill, I noticed that she had written "Be Dank mich!" on the back of it.  There was also what looked to be like the Chinese character shé 舌 ("tongue"), some scribbled Korean, and another script at the bottom that I didn't take time to examine closely (they kept the check and I was in a hurry to get home before midnight).

The waitress was a pleasant, personable young lady who looked to be in her early twenties.  By "Be Dank mich", I just assumed that she meant "Thank you!", but that played havoc with the German in my brain, where you wouldn't begin a sentence with English "Be", "thanks" would be "Danke", and "mich" ("me") is the accusative of "ich" ("I").

Although confused by what the waitress had written on the back of the bill, I didn't think too much about it until I was leaving and saw that the restaurant had posted the same "Be Dank mich" on the door!  Hmm!  This must be some sort of company slogan, I thought.

I grew up around Amish folk in Ohio (Wooster, Hartville) and even wrote an award winning play about them called "No Question!" that was performed at Dartmouth when I was a student there (1961-65).  I also have many Amish friends who come to the farmers market in Swarthmore and elsewhere in the Philadelphia area, and I take trips out to Lancaster to visit the Amish there from time to time.  So I am reasonably familiar with their brand of German, called Pennsylvania Dutch (Pennsilfaanisch-Deitsche), but I've never made a serious study of it.

This morning, as soon as I woke up, "Be Dank mich" grabbed hold of me, and trying to figure it out has captured my attention for the last couple of hours.  Looking it up online, I grew even more puzzled, since Google kept asking me whether I meant "be donk mich", so naturally I followed that suggestion.  Lo and behold, "be donk mich" appeared quite a few times, and even in connection with Dutch Pantry restaurants!  Must be a dialectal difference, I thought.

Then, whether searching "Be Dank mich" or "Be Donk mich", I couldn't find anything definitive about the meaning and grammar of the phrase.  A lot of people, even those who had worked in Dutch Pantry restaurants, took stabs at it (e.g., "thanks much"), but none of the glosses and translations were satisfying.

As far back as I can remember, even into the 40s, but especially in the 60s and 70s, there were Dutch Pantry restaurants where you could get Pennsylania Dutch cooking along the highways in Ohio and Pennsylvania; perhaps they even spread much further in the following decades.  As I was paying the bill, I asked the cashier, "How many Dutch Pantry restaurants are there in America?"  When she said "Three", I thought that I had misheard.  "Three?  Only three?"  "Yes," she said, "there used to be more than a hundred."

"What happened to all the others?  What has caused them to disappear?"

"Cracker Barrel came through," she replied.

That left me feeling sad, though I have to admit that the breakfast experience I had at the Cracker Barrel in Canton was exceptionally good, and I expect that would be similar wherever you find them. 

Will Pennsylvania Dutch go the way of the Dutch Pantry restaurants?


Selected readings

The word "Dutch" in "Pennsylvania Dutch" is not a mistranslation, but rather a corruption of the Pennsylvania German endonym Deitsch, which means "Pennsylvania Dutch / German" or "German". Ultimately, the terms Deitsch, Dutch, Diets and Deutsch are all cognates of the Proto-Germanic word *þiudiskaz meaning "popular" or "of the people".[5] The continued use of "Pennsylvania Dutch" was strengthened by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 19th century as a way of distinguishing themselves from later (post 1830) waves of German immigrants to the United States, with the Pennsylvania Dutch referring to themselves as Deitsche and to Germans as Deitschlenner ("Germany-ers", compare Deutschland-er) whom they saw as a related but distinct group.

After the Second World War, use of Pennsylvania German virtually died out in favor of English, except among the more insular and tradition-bound Anabaptists, such as the Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonites. A number of German cultural practices continue to this day, and German Americans remain the largest ancestry group claimed in Pennsylvania by people in the census.



  1. jhh said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 8:27 am

    You might direct an inquiry to the Pennsylvania German Society: there are members who are interested in the interplay of English and that dialect of German…

  2. AG said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 8:31 am

    I think "Ich bedanke mich bei Ihnen" is a still-current but fancy way to say thanks in Hochdeutsch. Something like "i tender my gratitude to you" or whatever. Apologies if I spelled the German completely wrong; I'm typing on the go.

  3. Jeremy said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 8:38 am

    Yeah, "(ich) bedanke mich!" is common enough in Germany.

  4. TomW said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 8:43 am

    "Ich bedanke mich" is a fairly normal thing to say in Standard German. It's a reflexive construction, literal English would be something like "I bethank myself." The interesting thing about the Pennsylvania Dutch construction on the receipt is that they have reanalyzed the be- prefix as a separate word.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 9:12 am

    The first four comments all show the awesome power of Language Log.

    Thanks for the great observations!

  6. Frans said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 9:38 am

    "Donk" is just the pronunciation of "dank" rendered in American English. Odd to see though. As AG said above, in German it's a somewhat formal way of saying "I thank you."

  7. Alice ter Meulen said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 9:53 am

    in contemporary Dutch ‘ bedanken’ is thanking someone (+acc), compounded from the nun ‘dank’. This apparently reflexive use of the DO is not acceptable, but with other roots you do get ‘ik bevrijd mij’ – I liberate me and the reflexive ‘zich bevrijden’ and ‘ik bedenk mij’ – I change my mind, necessarily reflexive. It may be that ‘ik bedank mij’ could similar.

  8. Jonathan Silk said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 11:27 am

    @Alice ter Meulen
    Yes, but… I would say that a simple 'bedankt' is fairly common, while if one wishes to be more formal then 'dank u wel' would be the next step. I am of course not a native speaker, but I would feel (for what it's worth, since I have no native sense, again) that *bdeankt u would merit a star. While "Ik bedank mij" may exist (though the examples I find always have mij modifying something, for instance zelf, I thank myself), there are also expressions like (found on the internets, thus…) "Ik zou u willen vragen; bedank mij en mijn collega's niet," or: I would like to ask you: don't thank me and my colleagues. Therefore the form most normally, I would say, is probably an imperative.
    I hope a native speaker will correct me!

  9. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 12:53 pm

    From June Teufel Dreyer, who grew up in Brooklyn ("Flatbush Avenue between J and K. A great place to grow up, and I am not being sarcastic."):

    My father loved going to the Amish areas since they spoke the kind of German he had spoken as a child. When he went back to Tuttlingen after the war, the language had changed so much that a young man remarked to me that dad’s German reminded him of Chaucerian English. No matter. Not having a car, we’d take a city bus and a couple of subways to the NYC central bus station and board a Trailways long distance coach for Pennsylvania. My father chatted happily with the farmers, who were delighted to find an Ausländer who spoke their language.

    Somewhat later, I spent summers incarcerated in a Lutheran camp near Stroudsburg, and Pennsylvania Dutch dishes were sometimes on the menu. I didn’t, and do not, care for apple butter (too acidic) or shoo-fly pie (too molasses-y) but loved all the noodle dishes, crumb cakes, soft pretzels, and the kind of chow-chow without the mustard. There’s a brand called Wos-Wit, which I think means “was willst du", that was widely available commercially.

  10. Steve Hartman Keiser said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 12:58 pm

    Ich bedank mich is good Pennsylvania Dutch. My grandma and great uncle used it in the Amish-Mennonite community of Kalona Iowa in the 20th century. And PA Dutch is here to stay for a loooooong time. Amish and Old Order Mennonite children generally choose to remain a part of the community as adults and so the number of PA Dutch speakers has been growing exponentially (roughly doubling every 20 years). I highly recommend Mark Louden's book "Pennsylvania Dutch: The Story of an American Language"–chock full of amazing historical, cultural, and linguistic observations.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 1:12 pm

    I told June Dreyer that I noted Tuttlingen is in the far southeast of Germany, down near the Austrian Tyrol where my Dad was born. She replied:


    "Yes, right near both Austria and Switzerland. The local newspaper, which we read, was called the Grenz Böte. It was possible to drive to Switzerland for 2nd breakfast and then on to Austria for the mid-day meal. My relatives liked to eat. A lot. The food there is indeed delicious and tasted even better in the cool mountain air, better still after a long hike."


  12. Mark Louden said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 1:22 pm

    Steve Hartman Keiser got it exactly right. The expression "ich bedank mich" is perfectly normal PA Dutch. For virtually all its speakers today, PA Dutch is an oral language. Although Amish and traditional Mennonites can read the High German of the Bible, their hymnals, and prayer books, their active literacy is English. That means that when they occasionally write PA Dutch, they often use English orthography, which is reflected in the "Donk" part of the written phrase you saw (= [dank]). The separation of "Be" from "Donk" is simply due to not being used to seeing PA Dutch in writing.

  13. Frans said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 1:37 pm

    @Alice ter Meulen
    The "Dutch" in Pennsylvania Dutch is Deutsch, specifically from the southwest (Alsace, Lorraine, Switzerland). In Dutch and English we (can) say "ik bedank je/u" (I thank you). But in German you'd say "ich bedanke mich" (I thank me).

    @Jonathan Silk
    See above. The correct form is "ik bedank u" [for your good work].

  14. David Marjanović said,

    August 16, 2020 @ 5:38 pm

    The local newspaper, which we read, was called the Grenz Böte.

    Grenzbote, then: "Border Herald".

  15. Jonathan Silk said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 3:26 am

    "The correct form is "ik bedank u" [for your good work]."
    Of course you may be right about "correct"ness, but

    "ik bedank u" 58,300 results on google

    "ik dank u" 38,800,000 results

  16. cM said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 4:28 am

    David Marjanović:
    The umlaut is there all right, just on another vowel: "Gränzbote"
    ( )

    Yes, that's of course not the standard spelling nowadays.

  17. Frans said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 5:03 am

    @Jonathan Silk
    In normal speech we say "dank je/u," same as in English. "I thank you" is formal, like at the beginning of a speech (I thank you for showing up in such large numbers), and "ik dank u" is nowadays more idiomatic than "ik bedank u." I think the latter is slightly more formal still, perhaps an additional level of formality that's simply been dropped. You'll find it plenty in slightly older letters.

    Anyway, I was just confirming that *bedankt u is definitely not a thing.

  18. Frans said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 5:05 am

    PS Another form is "ik wil u bedanken voor…" (I want to thank you for…)

  19. Hans Adler said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 2:46 pm

    My interpretation as a native German speaker (from a region where Palatinate German is spoken, which is essentially the origin of Pennsylvania German and still very similar to it if you ignore the influence of English — all of which might theoretically be relevant, but doesn't seem to be):

    "Be dank mich" is a weird spelling of "Bedank[e] mich", which in turn is the common Standard German phrase "Ich bedanke mich" with the subject (Ich = I) dropped but the reflexive pronoun (mich = myself) preserved. Which is a relatively common thing to happen in casual speech.

    In German, probably under the influence of French "se remercier", the verb "danken = to thank" can be made reflexive as "sich bedanken" if you want to suppress the direct object. Doing so can be important to German speakers because whenever you refer directly to your interlocutor by a personal pronoun, you need to choose between two forms of address ('informal' du or 'polite/formal' Sie). This choice is often tricky even for native speakers. Thus, instead of choosing between "Ich danke dir" and "Ich danke Ihnen" (which both translate to "I thank you"), we often prefer "Ich bedanke mich" (meaning roughly "I thank [someone]").

    I would guess that the subjects in "Ich bedanke mich" and "I thank you" are dropped for roughly the same reasons, resulting in "Bedanke mich" and "Thank you", respectively. In German, the former is relatively rare because it results in the reflexive pronoun "mich" standing on its own, which is at least borderline ungrammatical and definitely informal. Given that Pennsylvania German is largely a purely spoken dialect that has lost much of its contact to the spoken standard language, and given the additional influence of English "Thank you", it seems natural that the short form "Bedank[e] mich" would be a lot more common among Pennsylvania German speakers than among European German speakers.

    I think the pronunciation of a in "[Ich] bedank mich", while it doesn't have to be, CAN be close enough to an o so that someone with no exposure to written German might come up with the spelling "Bedonk mich", perhaps as a hypercorrection under the assumption that the a is an Anglicism. (I think this is true both for Standard German and for Pennsylvania German.) I note that the German version of Google does not make the same suggestion, but the much more sensible one of replacing "be dank mich" by "bedank mich".

  20. Andrew Usher said,

    August 17, 2020 @ 8:49 pm

    Yes, but it's still more sensible to believe that 'donk' is an alteration of 'dank' based on English sound conventions, not German ones, given that as has been stated these people are not fully literate in German.

    The related matter I've wondered about for a while is the loss of final -e. This is sometimes said to be limited to the 1sg. verb forms but I haven't noticed that – when 'Texas German' was on this site one of the things immediately noticeable is that all final -e was gone with no trace. I would not be surprised hat this is generally characteristic of all colloquial German, and that retention of final schwa, so far as it is, is an influence of the artificial standard.

    And, if German were to follow the history of English, complete loss of -e would be following by weakening of -er and -a to a new final schwa!

    k_over_hbarc at

  21. Hans Adler said,

    August 18, 2020 @ 1:39 am

    Yes, somehow I missed the fact that "donk" makes sense as an English approximation of "dank". That's definitely a better explanation.

    Regarding the loss of -e:

    To me it feels as if the final -e in 1st person singular (any tense/mood) would have been lost already if German didn't have a standard language that (1) has mostly phonetic spelling, and (2) has always been a conservative literary language. Due to (1), people know the final -e is supposed to be pronounced because they know it is part of the normal orthography, and they don't update the spelling because of (2).

    Nowadays I usually drop it when writing emails, but I am in a minority.

    In some (2nd person) singular imperative forms, the -e has been lost for centuries and in some cases a preceding e replaced by i. The regular forms ending in -e only exist as relatively rare non-standard variants. (E.g. gebe! is a rare variant of gib!). In some others, dropping the final -e is colloquial and may be extremely common (geh'! instead of gehe!) or extremely rare (rechn'! instead of rechne!), probably depending on phonological factors.

    So much for conjugation. In declination, final -e indicating dative is already archaic, except in fixed idioms such as "zu Rate ziehen". Final -e indicating plural is dropped by some speakers (informal, dialect, poetry).

    German dialects seem to evolve much faster than Standard German does, so you would expect that the loss of -e has progressed further in Pennsylvania German, just like it has in Palatinate German. I couldn't find a lot of Texas German on the Internet, and what I did find sounded very much like the normal non-native Standard German of American English speakers to me. So I can't comment on that variant.

  22. Frans said,

    August 18, 2020 @ 4:17 am

    Also note that the standard language is called High German for a reason. I don't know how that particular situation is developing down in Bavaria and Austria, but there may be little to no reason to presume it's a recent development if a Central German dialect like Pennsylvania Dutch is in some ways more similar to Dutch/English/Low German than to Standard/High German.

    when 'Texas German' was on this site one of the things immediately noticeable is that all final -e was gone with no trace.

    As per above, I found that fairly unremarkable, and I was surprised at how normal (i.e., not "American") they still sounded. Unless they originally came from down south.

  23. Andrew Usher said,

    August 19, 2020 @ 10:00 pm

    If anyone can't find the LL post about Texas German, it is here:
    (first Google result).

    I, too, was surprised at how completely German the fluent speakers sound, for the circumstances. But as I was saying, the loss of -e seemed a clear difference from the standard: note that the narrator of that first video says 'Stinkkatz' while the standard spelling would be 'Stinkkatze' (and of course the standard word is 'Stinktier' = skunk).

    And if it is a real sound change, one wouldn't expect it to be restricted to certain grammatical cases but to occur, as in 'Stinkkatz', even when not a grammatical ending. That is what I was wondering about more: in old poetry and song, forms like Sonn' and Ehr' are used pretty freely, but I don't know how much that reflected spoken use (surely at least somewhat, or the convention would not have arisen). The form heut' is common, and not just in heut Nacht; and for something different Americans are likely to have heard 'shul' (Yiddish), corresponding to standard Schule.

    Would it be fair to call this lexical diffusion, then? Your example of 'rechne' retaining its -e shows of course the reluctance to create an impermissible cluster, yet if the change carried through to completion even it should be affected and likely epenthesise to be a homophone of 'rechen' (this pattern also occurred in English and is to an extent preserved in spelling).

    Finally, Frans, although the standard language is called 'Hochdeutsch' in German, it is generally agreed to be based mainly on Central German dialects. Austro-Bavarian speakers have a number of clear phonological differences that exclude them from it.

  24. Frans said,

    August 20, 2020 @ 12:32 am

    If you're right I should've emphasized east more than south, but I believe the general point still stands. Concretely, I've always understood it's East Central German + East High German.

    I didn't share this before because it might undermine my call not to draw any conclusions too early, but I know from experience that in Möselfrankisch they say things like "katz," not "katze." The same applies to Lëtzebuergesch if they'll excuse me lumping it in with German (although it tends to reduce further to kaz). I believe it's the same in Lorraine, and while I haven't been there I wouldn't be surprised if it were the same in the Alsace.

    Austro-Bavarian speakers have a number of clear phonological differences that exclude them from it.

    I can't quite tell on the basis of what kind of knowledge you're talking. People having moved away from the standard since the 18th century doesn't necessarily mean much either. :-) For example in Dutch, people from Belgium often operate under the misconception that what are actually southern features in the standard are northern/Hollandic because the south had further phonological developments since. Essentially the north as a whole moved toward the standard while the south moved away from it.

    NB I'm not claiming Germany is analogous. I'm only making a generic statement that we shouldn't be too hasty to conclude much of anything on the basis of either present-day Standard German or local deviations. But I admit that under current circumstances I'm also not particularly exited about popping by the university library on a whim to check up on present and historical phonological properties of German dialects. In any case, from my present-day possibly irrelevant perspective kat is unremarkable for Low German and katz is unremarkable for West Central German.

  25. Frans said,

    August 20, 2020 @ 12:46 am

    And therefore,

    1) West Central German has a feature
    2) Texas German has the same feature
    3) Texas German came from Alsace+Lorraine+Switzerland

    1,2,3 → Maybe that shared feature is historical.

  26. Vanya said,

    August 20, 2020 @ 3:44 am

    the restaurant had posted the same "Be Dank mich" on the door

    That is what strikes me as being off. Presumably even in PA Dutch this should be some variant of “Wir Bedanken uns” (1st person plural), since the thanks are coming collectively from the restaurant. I assume that is the restaurant manager not really understanding PA Dutch.

  27. Andrew Usher said,

    August 20, 2020 @ 7:23 am

    Yes, exactly. You've pretty much given a good answer to my question, as far as you know. And certainly I'm not trying to get you to do any special research; indeed my question wasn't directed specifically toward you anyway. As for Austrian/Bavarian phonology, we have one poster (David Marjanovic), who speaks such a variety, that has posted various things about it. At least one (the different distribution of fortes and lenes) is certainly a conservative feature.

  28. Frans said,

    August 21, 2020 @ 2:42 am

    Completely off topic, but my brain's taken to playing "bedanke mich" on the melody of Keplinkepling.

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