Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tell Me: Family Vernacular

I'm often amused at turns of phrases that don't "really" exist in the English language, but are still are commonly used in different cliques or families. A slip of the tongue, or a child's innocent mispronunciation, and we adopt those terms into our vocabulary for life, and often even hand them down.

Frugal Mom and I, for instance, both often substitute "I can't know" for "I don't know." Actually, I'm not sure where we even picked that up; she lived with me for a short while when she was twelve years old, did we coin the phrase then? "I can't know."

Likewise, my niece, corrected to say "May I," instead of "Can I" when she was a toddler, just played it safe, and combined the two into "Can I May," and that stuck also. "Can I may go outside?"

My employer grew up in Israel, and many of us, over the years have adopted (ok, mimicked, goodheartedly) his tendency to say "Is there is..." instead of "Is there..." "Is there is any cake left?"

My favorite, from my family, resulted from a visit to the grocery store when Brian was about 2 years old. Something festive going on that day, there was a guy in a gorilla suit standing outside the front door.

I decided to just button my lip and see how Brian would react. He gave a little start, but just moved closer to me, without a word. And a little closer...and then a little more closer. By the time I walked into the store, Brian was riding on my leg like a little monkey himself, still never having said a word. Kind of like the little guy on the right, here:

Yeah, that's him.

When we got inside to safety, he got back on his feet, and noted, "did you see that big 'ol mmmmmmmmonkey?" (Yes, you have to draw out the "M" to get this right.) I played dumb, so he explained it to me: "There was a big ol mmmmmmonkey out there, Mommy; it was a big ol' mmmmmmmmmonkey." On and on about the big ol monkey, while I laughed myself to tears.

From this incident, "big 'ol mmmmmmonkey" is now an adjective, in our family, for anything that is large, huge, excessive. I've used it for 20 years or so, and Clint has even started using it, when he needs to get his point across. You will hear us say, "It was a big ol mmmmmonkey fire," or "look at this big 'ol mmmmonkey green pepper I bought today."

What about you? What unique phrases have you and your family or friends adapted into your everyday vernacular? How did they come into existence?

Tell me.


  1. Somehow as a toddler may son started saying "That don't be good." We have no idea where it came from, but it is used now in our family on a regular basis in answer when someone tells us about something bad happening.

    My son also continues to say "tooken" for "taken." That one I've not adopted and am working diligently to help him correct.

    That's all I can think of at the moment though there may be others. If I think of any I'll be back and comment again!

  2. Car Guy and I have several that we've gotten from various nieces:
    - doog instead of good
    - "Sumpin's doin' sumpin'" when there's something weird happening
    - meh. I know that's the controversial phrase on the interwebs now, but we've been saying it since it first aired on The Simpsons.

  3. I cant know.

    Oh wait. Lets see. We have "chicken on the cob". K, I believe, began to say this in reference to chicken legs when she was little.

    Oh, and one time some friends and us were playing a board game where you had to make up definitions to really crazy words that you have never seen in your whole we now have coined the word "hopo" to mean, when you pee in your pants just a little bit because you are laughing so hard.

  4. When My Heart was in kindergarten, he brought home a picture a friend had made for him. It read "You the mna!" So now, whenever someone does something cool, we tell them You the mna! Same nephew...when he was little enough to not quite understand but want to understand used the phrase "well that's a tractor" at one point. We finally managed to put together that he meant "well, that's attractive." So now we use "that's a tractor" too. Finally cheese has become a verb in our house. Lionel (my 16 year old dachshund) gets cheese when he uses the puppy pad so, when one of us notices it, we will ask the other if they have cheesed the dog yet. Or inform the other that the dog has been cheesed. There are So Many others but this is getting long so we'll stop here. :)

  5. Clay and I used to work in retail together in the early 90's. Our manager was particularly fond of using the buzz-word-du-jour at our morning meetings. One month he was going on and on about 'flowing the merchandise'. After hearing this one too many times, Clay took a big sip of his coffee and said, "Excuse me, my coffee's kicking in. I've got to go flow the merchandise" and he walked toward into the bathroom. We still use it to this day.

    There was a time when we had to give our cat shots. When we were away, our neighbor (a former nurse) would do it for us. She would ask us to tell her what dates she needed to "shoot the cat". It became such a common phrase that we would forget how bad it sounded and would call her from our cell phone in public places and ask her very casually to please "shoot the cat". It would always take us a minute to figure out the horrible looks people were giving us...

  6. LOL!!! My word verification for my last comment was "mousify"! OK, think up a good meaning for mousify, and it will become a new work in all our blogging family vernacular.

  7. It's not even from my family, but it stuck - we were sitting for my friend's nephew (I guess he was 3 or 4 at the time) while his mom was in the hospital having her second child. We took the kid to the playground at McDonald's and, in between whines about his food and a bigger kid in the play area, a car alarm went off somewhere and he lifted up his head and in a Shaft voice said "Who be honkin'?"

    Ten years later, I still say "Who be honkin'?" when an alarm goes off, the phone rings, whatever.

  8. Shari G9:04 AM

    When my sisters and I were young we went out to dinner with my parents. There was a sign that read "Smorgasbord Tonight". My sister asked what a smorgasbord was and with a straight face my dad answered "You wouldn't like it. It's a green slimy thing". To this day, we call something that's nasty a smorgasbord.

  9. StFarmer9:32 AM

    I used to say "college" cheese when I was a kid but it didn't really stick.

    I love it when they say, "all y'all" in the South. And "where you at?" instead of "where are you?". And "coke" refers to any soft drink.

    I had a friend that used the euphamism, "drop some frinds off at the pool" when they had to use the restroom.

  10. Truself: I like "that don't be good." "tooken" reminds me of "putten": "I had putten that book away once already."

    Ann: We adopted "Something's happening!" when we sat downtown on Friday nights, and would hear a commotion.

    Frugal Mom: Chicken on the cob kills me. And Hopo...does it work for violent sneezing, also?

    Pobs: I'll be moving to land of tractors pretty soon; I'll have to remember that one.

    Husband & St Farmer: So many pooping terminologies, so little poop.

    MOUSIFY: Surfing the net, of course. I spent 40 hours mousifying from work this week.

    Jag: I like it, I think I can remember that one.

    Shari, "Smorgas..." does sound a little slimy. And makin' up definitions for our kids should be another blog altogether.

  11. Anonymous10:30 AM

    I ordered my favorite sundae with two toppings with pecans at the DQ on Neil St and the girl behind the counter with her PINK hair and a STUD in her lip responded in a sassy voice, "You Go Girl". So from now on we refer to my favorite sundae as the "You Go Girl Sundae".

    My 3 year old great-niece never says " I don't like that". She says "I CAN'T like that". She is a bit shy and recently my step-father offered her a dollar for a hug. She gave him on of her evil looks and said, "I can't like you". Sweet. --jody

  12. Ah, a lady that speaks her mind. Sweet!

  13. Sister and me went on a tour of Colossal Cave in Tucson, Arizona, the tour guide was explaining the process of how stalagmites and stalactites created columns, but she pronounced columns "callyoums." Heck that's all we needed we looked at each other and said "how does she know that’s a callyoum and not a peelar." So every column we see now my sister says "Oh, look a callyoum and I reply no that's a peelar!"

  14. How are you are? ;0) I don't even know how that started!

    Oooooh, sooo, so many!

    My sister used to use "cursimal" for commercial and I still say
    "pannycakes" from when she was little.

    My Tilda is coming up with new ones already! "Pubby" for pillow and/or a blanket. "Orn-na-nay" is orange...

    I think I'm going to have to adopt: big ole mmmmmmmonkey! Sooo cute!

  15. Anonymous8:51 AM

    To this day, with one "kid" as old as 37 (!), we still eat BIZGETTI for spaghetti, we also have COLLEGE CHEESE (cottage cheese), and for some weird reason, doughnuts are called BONG BONGS. The 27-year-year old baby, when we were going somewhere, always said "GO-GO-BYE-BYE-CAR-CAR." I'm going to make sure his daughter learns that one. Those aircraft with the one rotary blade are called "HOPTER COPTERS." And I can't tell you what a hanging plant is called, only that when the dad ran into one with his head, in front of the 2-year-old, he yelled out 'SON OF A ______!" And the expletive deleted is what we call hanging plants, as in "LOOK AT THE LOVELY B*#H."

  16. 1) My mother calls the kitchen sink a "zink", so now we all do, except we emphasize the zzzzz for her benefit.

    2) My husband carries a conversation with himself when describing something, like this:
    "That bug was a big as a house. How big? As big as a house."

    3) When David and I were first dating we came out of a store in a strip mall and they must have just sprayed the landscaping because there was a strong ammonia smell. I said, very casually "it smells like cat pee". He laughed until I thought he was going to cry. So now, any time he smells anything out of the ordinary it is "cat pee".

    4) When my niece (now 25) was 6-7 years old, she had a real strong speech empediment. She was trying to tell us about the "apple poodle" they had at school. It took awhile, but we eventually figured out she meant "Apple computer". So now we all call computers, apple poodles.

    5) Lastly, the same niece (because she is a source of all amusement) a couple years later at a family gathering started asking us our middle names. When she got her to mother, she said Kay. I was next and I said "ditto". She went on and afterwards went around repeating every one she had learned. When she got to me she said "ditto". We laughed and laughed and she got upset. "That is what you said", she exclaimed. I explained over and over that ditto meant the same as. She looked at me so seriously and said "then why didn't you just say that?" She had a good point. However, even now family members will call me Melody Ditto.

    This was a lot of fun, thanks.

  17. My niece, loved opening presents on Christmas- we'd let her open ours, and then bring them to us. "Ta-Da! Sox!" became our way of describing an underwelming gift, or moment..My son, at Disney World, brandishing his flintlock looking pistol and yelling "Scurvy slobs"(instead of swabs!) The movie "The Three Amigos" will always be called "The Three Enigmas"....

  18. We have so many weird expressions and phrases I couldn't even begin to list them all. One of the most common ones I use, which has a variety of meanings, is "I'm too little." It can mean, "I didn't feel up to it." or even "I didn't feel like doing it." As far as local expressions, the other day I used an old North Carolina expression. I got a wrong number call and didn't catch what the man said, and I responded , "Do what?" I hadn't said that in years and it made me laugh.

  19. We have a whole lot of funny sayings at our house and in our family. 2 fairly famous ones:

    1) I am normally very good at spelling new words. However, "gauge" tripped me up quite a bit in 6th or 7th grade and I spelled it incorrectly on the test as "guage". My mother found this hilarious and wondered what a "guage" was. Started making up ways to say it and wound up with
    something that would phonetically sound like "gwaj" .

    She decided this was some fancy French word and then proclaimed it must be French for "skunk". She then proceeded to say the new word at every dead skunk smell- "Oh dear daughter, don't you smell the guage?" etc.

    So now "guage" means dead skunk and is said loudly and in a French accent whenever we smell one.

    2) I was in bed late at night and wanted a drink. There was only milk or rum in the refrigerator and I wanted neither. I Oh-so-politely asked the Dude to get me a drink (he was in bed as well so follow me on this line of thinking). He grumbles, starts to get up and get it, when he asks me- "what kind of drink do you want?"

    I wanted Kool Aid, but didn't want to TELL him that (cause it was late and we were in bed and sleepy) so I told him :::
    "not milk".

    He says something like well that doesn't leave much and I mumble uh-huh and HOPE he gets my clue-by-four that he should make kool aid. Nope, he announces:

    "Rum's not milk!" and gets me a shot or two of rum.

    So now whenever I want a drink OR he doesn't want to do something, we say "rum's not milk".

  20. I work with tons of people who say "do what?" on a regular basis -and they're mostly from here or southern Illinois. My friend's mother is from England and they have all sorts of good expressions. One I repeat and now a friend a work said it the other day: when you hear a person talking about someone but never saying their name, only saying "she this, and she that", my friend's mom will say, "Who's she? The cat's mother??". I have no idea where that's from, but I say it all the time.

  21. Not sure when these came about, but they were a result of the firstborn trying to pronounce things - and they stuck:

    Choco-chums - What the rest of you probably call croutons.

    Hockitower - Another name for that aircraft with one rotary blade.

  22. Probably the one that really stuck with my immediate family was ticky-tack. A story my mother endlessly tells to any new friend of mine she meets is about how when I was little I couldn't quite spit out kitty-cat... and one day chasing the cat around the house I lost sight of it... and with full hands on the hips, I'm-in-charge, dramatics turned to my mother and demanded "Where dat ticky-tack go?"

    Cats have been tickies and ticky-tacks ever since.

  23. Oh, and just remembered another one. "Mammas are sposed to know ever-thin."

    Apparently I'd get upset if she ever said "I don't know" during my ask-a-million-questions-about-anything-and-everything-i-see stage.

    I had the privilege of knowing exactly where every driver in the car we past was going and why and what they were going to do after that.


    Helpful information when kids think you know ever-thin just like mommas are sposed to.


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