‘s bucklich Mennli
Have you ever lost something that you know you had on hand just moments ago? Or noticed a light on that you had already turned off? Or perhaps a tried-and-true baking recipe flopped for no apparent reason? The Pennsylvania Dutch have a name for this domestic phenomenon: ‘s bucklich Mennli.
Throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, previous generations on the farm would have invoked the name of ‘s bucklich Mennli (roughly translating to “the Little Hunchbacked Man”) anytime one’s daily routine was interrupted by an unaccounted for disturbance. As a personification of entropy, ‘s bucklich Mennli was thought to be a household spirit or imp, who delighted in tipping the scales of the delicate balance of daily life, creating small, frustrating obstacles to a well-ordered homestead.
Although the scale of his influence was minor, his mischief could be cumulative, and it was customary to appease him with a bowl of milk set out overnight to mitigate the risk of further damage.
In Pennsylvania, as well as in Alsace, Austria, Switzerland, and throughout Germany, ‘s bucklich Mennli was the subject of children’s rhymes and folk songs, which described the little spirit of the house and garden as a bringer of mischief. A popular song named after the little scamp recounts the interrupted farm chores of a child, who finds freshly planted onion sets uprooted, impurities in the milk freshly run though the sieve, and dust on a cleanly swept floor.
Wann ich in mei Schtibbche kumm,
Fer mei Schtibbche kehre,
Schteht des bucklich Mennli datt
Un fangt er aa zu wehre.
(When I enter my little room,
To sweep my little room out,
The little hunchbacked man is there
and attempts to hinder me.)
On a positive note, ‘s bucklich Mennli was believed to be of a similar class of helpful spirits that encouraged the garden to grow, if properly appeased. A farmer near Kutztown once described that he traditionally left perennial wildflowers grow at the corners of his truck-patch garden “wu die Eck-Leitli wuhne” (where the little corner-people live).
Celebrated dialect speaker and writer John Brendle (1889 -1966) of Reinholds, Lancaster County recalled that his grandmother would blame ‘s bucklich Mennli if a fly were in the pie crust, or if a cake would nicely rise and later fall in the pan. However, if a pie was baked to perfection, “dann hot sie, uffkors, aa gsaat—‘ya well, des muss mer em Bucklich Mennli gewwe, er hot mer mitgholfe fer den Kuche backe,’” (then, of course, she also said, “Yes, well, I must give a little to ‘s bucklich Mennli, as he helped me bake this pie).
Got unexplained mischief at home? Just remember to put that bowl of milk out for your little helper, and tell us what shenanigans ‘s bucklich Mennli has been up to at your house!