Another Perspective

Our Family’s Words

Every household has its private vocabulary.

By 12.13.07

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A day or two after Sally and I brought Bud home from the hospital, our friends Robert and Elizabeth came to see the new baby.

"It's a booba!" Robert exclaimed, upon first seeing Bud. And that became our first family word: "Booba," pronounced with exactly the same emphasis as "baby."

Now that I think of it, "booba" sounds like one of Robert's father's words, and I bet it is. So we inherited our first piece of family vocabulary from somebody else.

My Dad had words of his own, too. I can remember him making designs on ice cream with a can of chocolate syrup for my sister and me.

"Who wants a hoodie-kye?" he'd ask. "Who wants a goosus-whoofer?"

On my mother's side, her father used to sing a nonsense song called "Sing-song, Solly, gitcha-kye-me-oh." I am, so far as I know, the last person in the world who knows this song:

"Kay-mumma, kye-mumma, hoot-sack, foot-sack, humma diddle, bumma diddle, loot-sack, foot-sack, Paddy get yer bootjack, Sing-song, Solly, gitcha-kye-me-oh."

I did my best to pass it on to my boys, but they just never picked up on it.

ALL FAMILIES HAVE SUCH WORDS. Some start from bodily functions. We use the word "frog" instead of "fart." Instead of "hiccup," we say, "You've got the glarks." Some come from mispronunciations in toddlerhood. Joe always said "gackin" for "napkin." Bud used to over-pronounce things. "Bottom" came out "bot-tem." "Restaurant" resulted in "rust-ou-rount," and still does. I can't remember which boy transliterated "hamburger" to "hangabur," but it stuck.

"Tweeners" means the territory between the legs. When Bud was little and I would dry him after a bath, for some reason, I would say, "Do 'acting.'" And he would spread his legs so I could dry his tweeners.

We have always had a dog, and Joe made "dog" into "dogga," which has stuck as our pet name for the beast.

Then there are the food names. We call chicken a la king "Methodist pie." That's one of my Dad's. Supposedly, the Methodists always served it for church suppers in his home town. "Daddy's special pancakes"? Crepes with fruit inside.

LU Little Schoolboy cookies are "Daddy's special cookies." Some years back, Bud, my uncle Charles and I sat, three generations, at our kitchen table and quietly, meditatively ate a whole box of Daddy's special cookies.

YOU WILL PARDON ME FOR THINKING ABOUT MY BOYS and how they will remember me. It can make you morbid, finding yourself on your dining room floor with your eyes pinned, with the EMTs laboring over you, urging, "Stay with me! Stay with me!" Much as I'd like to hope that Bud and Joe will remember moral lessons, I am far more confident that they will remember instead our family's vocabulary. Nonsense, in other words.

"We're off like a herd of turtles!" "You're on some other spiral arm of the galaxy."

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.