Thursday, April 08, 2004

The Paas Mystery

I've apparently spent way too much time, energy, and thought on this: Last Saturday, while at J--- and M---'s Easter egg-dying party, someone wondered where the PAAS name came from. A cursory glance at the box led to a parent company in Florida, but the truth is more complicated.

In a Tuesday comment, Jenn pointed to the PAAS history page:
By the late 1800s, William Townley, a druggist in Newark, New Jersey, had started selling packets of Easter egg dye to mothers in his neighborhood (mostly Pennsylvania Dutch). Soon Townley's idea caught on and his sideline had grown into a new business. In 1880, Townley founded a new company, Townley's Easter Egg Dye, to produce the dye packets, which he sold for five cents each. In honor of his early customers, he soon changed the company's name to PAAS® Dye Company, derived from Passen, a Pennsylvania Dutch word for Easter.
So far, so good, right? Well, maybe. Checking the Revised Pennsylvania German Dictionary, Easter is given as Oschder and Passover/Pasch is given as Oschderfescht (Easter feast/festival).

The reason I mention Passover/Pasch is that the initial digging around into the source of PAAS on Sunday, gave some indication that Paas could be a variant of Pasch, which was the Passover (פסח) celebration as marked by early Christians. The word Pasch comes from the Late Greek πάσχα.

The Paas is a variant of Pasch theory seemed to be supported by an online Webster's definition from 1913 which defined Paas as "Pace; The Easter festival." The Shorter OED noted that Pace (pronounced /peɪs/, and an alternate form of Pasch) was of Scots and/or Northern English derivation, which lead to the Pocket Scots Dictionary and several forms of the word: Pace, Paice, Pasch, Pask, Pes, Pesch, and Peace.

Again, nothing definitive about Paas, but it does seem to be a closer source than the "official" Pennsylvania Dutch explanation.

However, digging in a few other dictionaries, I find Passah and Passahfest (Passover) in several German dictionaries, which matches the Pasch track. By comparison, Easter is Ostern, which parallels the Pennsylvania German Oschder.

Turning to Dutch dictionaries, however, something interesting pops up: Pasen is Easter, but Paasdag is given for Easter day. Checking another Dutch dictionary, Pass- is given as the combination form for Easter-related items: Passbrood, Easter loaf or Passover bread; Passei, Easter egg; Paasmaandag, Easter Monday; Paastijd, Eastertide; etc. Paas (Easter, Passover) is similarly used in Afrikaans.

Now the question becomes, why does the PAAS company history attribute the word to "Pennsylvania Dutch" (which is really a form of German)?

Turning to Google, haven't found a good combination of keyword to get ghits for the presence of Pennsylvania German speakers in Newark in the late 1800s. But I did run across one site about the book Minority Languages of the Mid-Atlantic: A Bibliography, which mentions the now extinct Jersey Dutch:
The Dutch dialects spoken in New York and New Jersey were quite firmly established there in preceding centuries, but by now are totally extinct. Jersey Dutch enjoyed some currency in Bergen and Passaic Counties until about the turn of the century. It was essentially a variety of Flemish, colored with words from English and the Minsi [Munsee] dialect of the local Indian tribes. Jersey Dutch was also used by the Negroes of the area, who developed a variety with its own dialectal peculiarities.
Newark is in Essex County, which is just the other side of the Passaic River from Passaic and Bergen Counties, so it's possible Jersey Dutch speakers were present in Newark. Of course, I have no word lists for Jersey Dutch, so it is just a supposition that Paas could have come from Jersey Dutch.

Supposition or not, however, it's interesting to learn more about Jersey Dutch. According to an article on Radio Netherlands Wereldomroep (RNW), Jersey Dutch is derived from Low Dutch-speaking immigrants of the 17th century.
According to Professor [Jaap] van Marle, Low Dutch is different from the language later immigrants spoke who settled in the Mid-West. "The most crucial characteristic is that there is much English influence in it. For instance, the sentence 'Tomorrow I'll go home' translates to Dutch as 'Morgen ga ik naar huis'. However, in Low Dutch it would be 'Morgen ik ga naar huis'. So the inversion after the adverb in the first position has disappeared and this is a typical aspect of English. The syntactic pattern of English has become the syntactic pattern of this variety of Dutch. Low Dutch is, in many respects, English grammar with Dutch words."
RNW has some text in Jersey Dutch and a RealAudio version of the story.

According to a post on the Lowlands-L Listserv, Jersey Dutch (which was still spoken into the 1940s) is the "most important" of a handful of Dutch-based languages/dialects that evolved in the former Dutch colony of New Netherlands. Other dialects include Albany Dutch (died out in the 1920s) and the less-well-known Mohawk Dutch and Schoharie Dutch. There also the creolized "Neger Duits," the last speakers of which were the Ramapo Mountain People or Jackson Whites. Another Lowlands-L post goes into some detail about the language and its speakers.

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