Are you Dutch-dressing your message?

Amish horse and buggy traveling in fog as it passes a small, white clapboard Amish schoolhouse.

Are you ever annoyed when public speakers – or even your conversation partners – have trouble getting to the point? It’s one thing to be gracious in allowing speakers to ramp up, but it’s another thing to beat around the bush when you need to get your message across. In the Pennsylvania Dutch region of southeastern and central Pennsylvania, “Dutch dressing” is a verbal habit that is socially advantageous in this ultra-polite culture. Where most East Coast people would say, “Pass the potatoes,” a good Pennsylvania Dutchman might say, “If you don’t mind, when you have the time, would you please pass the potatoes?” That sounds odd to a New Yorker or even someone from Atlanta, but it shows thoughtfulness and good manners to another Pennsylvania Dutchman.

But you’re probably not writing to Pennsylvania Dutchmen. And that kind of communication doesn’t work anywhere else.

To get the biggest impact from your words, grab the reader’s interest immediately with a direct message.

  • “Today Acme Dynamite hired a new Chief Explosives Officer, Wile. E. Coyote. He has 50 years of experience in stealth munitions.”
  • “You can now buy a handheld computer that can read your thoughts from 50 feet away. Click here for more details and pricing.”

Look at some of your recent written communications. Watch for instances of Dutch dressing. They might look like these that I’ve seen lately (and adapted):

  • “We wanted to let you know that …” (Really? If you want to let me know something, just tell me.)
  • “Just a note to call out our friend Wile E. Coyote. He is a valuable member of the demolition community and we all appreciate his high-energy approach to his work. Mr. Coyote has been named Chief Explosives Officer at Acme Dynamite beginning on January 17, 2019.” (Compare this to the announcement above. Which would you read?)

Unless you’re marketing to the Pennsylvania Dutch community, ruthlessly avoid Dutch dressing. (And by the way, you won’t find Dutch dressing near your Thanksgiving turkey – in that community, you have “filling” (not dressing) with your bird. And speaking of birds, if you really want a surprise, ask us what “Dutch goose” is!)