Family words and phrases

Family picnic table.

How I’d like to spend some days this summer with my family. Image courtesy of wallyir, Morguefile.

Life has such strange coincidences sometimes.

Last Sunday evening, I was in the mood to eat out and strolled over to a nearby restaurant to have an early dinner. Afterward, I sat on a brick wall to soak up some sunshine, which was welcome after what has felt like the world’s longest winter EVER in the DC metro area.

A woman sitting next to me had a golden-brown labradoodle with a friendly face, and I admired the dog and held out my hand so that the dog could sniff it. I happened to be wearing my college sweatshirt and the woman remarked on it. We got into conversation and it turned out that she not only went to the same college, she knows my sib. If I hadn’t noticed the dog, if we hadn’t been there on that wall at the same time or I hadn’t been wearing my sweatshirt, we would never have learned that we had those two links (college and sib) in common.

It got me thinking about families and the unique nicknames, phrases and words that families develop over the course of a lifetime. I love the phrase my sib developed to describe when a small child feels clingy and starts wailing unless held by someone else; it’s called “having a Velcro day”.  My other sib had a funny name for the plastic mat put underneath a high chair to protect the floor area underneath the chair from stains and spills created by a child spilling food or drink; the name for it was “splat mat”. (Rather appropriate, don’t you think?)

Then there was my great-uncle, V, up in the Shenandoah Valley. He didn’t get out much so he loved to call up other members of the family and ask, “What’s going on?” Uncle V would talk, and talk, and talk….and would often call right at dinnertime just as we sat down around the kitchen table. His timing was impeccable. To this day, my sib and I still have a joke about “pulling an Uncle V” and calling someone up to yak for a long time.

When there’s company and a guest asks what’s for dinner, I like to say: “Roast beast and smashed potatoes!” (Sorry, vegetarians, I had to get that in. I couldn’t resist.)

We like to tease each other in my clan. I tend to mess with my younger cousins’ minds. During a family get-together, we’ll all line up to get food from long tables and I’ll usually have a conversation that goes like this:

Young Cousin: (peering curiously into a crockpot, then looking up at me) What’s that?

Me: (checking out the contents, which are Aunt M’s cabbage rolls) Oh, that? It’s stewed roadkill. Want some?

My younger cousin then favors me with one of those skeptical looks, the I-don’t-think-I-believe-you-but-I’m-not-willing-to-risk-being-wrong look, which makes me crack up in laughter. After I finish giggling, I relent and explain what the food is.

Ah, families — a never-ending source of fun and entertainment. Many works of fiction have been written about them and their interactions, but the ones I enjoy the most show that the family members really love each other through their teasing of one another.

Blog readers: Got any words or phrases unique to your family?



Filed under Writing

34 responses to “Family words and phrases

  1. When I lived out of state my niece’s daughter (age 8) came to stay for a weekend. We took her out to dinner at an old Italian restaurant. It wasn’t fancy. They had the plastic red checked tablecloths. She sat down, looked around and said in a very serious voice that it was the finest restaurant she had ever been in. It was so hard not to laugh. It was a spaghetti joint with a bar. It’s turned into one of the “family” stories that are retold periodically.

  2. susanrouchard

    How about “Mummy’s face” an indescribable frown and gritting of teeth with pursed lips when my father, my sister and I would make fun of her. She seemed to say in silence, ‘after all that I do, after all that I’ve done’, it’s never enough. Exactly what I say to my three children when they complain about something in the house…taken from Danielle de Barberac, the film with Angelica Houston as the stepmother!

    • “Mummy’s face” — perfect!

      “Ever After” is such a wonderful movie, isn’t it? I love its humor and the face that Drew Barrymore’s character isn’t a wimp.

      I love the King’s line to Prince Henry: “Who are you and what have you done with my son?”

  3. Jaclyn

    How fun! Families are the best for compiling those inside jokes and one-liners. In my family, our longest running inside joke has been to poke fun at my mom for her weekly slips of the tongue. (She called El Duque “El Capitan” and once famously declared that “When I die, I don’t want to be buried – I want to be circumcised.”). Whenever someone says something dumb, we say they “pulled a C” (my mom’s first initial). And we’ve long joked that we’re going to put all of my mom’s goofs in a book. So now, every time my mom has a slip of the tongue, someone shouts “Put it in the book!” Poor Mom. She’s a good sport about it and laughs the longest and hardest at herself!

  4. Kids say such great stuff. Owen was taught to share his toys, so he held up kids in the sandbox saying “Share it to me!” We all still say it. And I think you must have known Dr. Seuss ’cause he used “roast beast” and I remember picking it up from there and passing it on 🙂 Fun post!

    • I didn’t really know Dr. Seuss’s books that well, sad to say. I learned it from my sib, I think.

      Did you know his name means “sweet” in German? How appropriate for an author of children’s books.

  5. Not from my family but I use it anyway. My friend’s Aunt Lois loved to tell stories but never got the stories exactly right. She would skew details, forget important parts, and make up some of her own. They would say she,”Auntie Lois-ed the story.” Now when I recount a story and can’t remember the details I warn my listener that I am probably “Auntie Lois-ing” the story. Kinda dumb, but it makes me laugh.

  6. My daughter’s name is Zoe. I call her “Zoe Bananas.” Why? Because she’s fond of bananas? Because she’s a goofball? Well yes to both, but that’s not why. I just started saying once based on a minor character from Goodfellas called Joey Bananas. We call her that so much she even answers to Z.B.

  7. A long time ago Christmas my eldest son was sporting his new robe and Elmo slippers. He wanted to stay up later and realizing the day needed to finish out before meltdowns began in KiddoLand, we denied his request. He stood in the living room clad in all his Christmas giftery and declared, “But it’s Christmas Eeeeeve.” So today, now that the kinder are all grown up, this little phrase gets pulled out when one of them wants to do something that the rest of the family vetoes. Breaks any accumulating stress everytime.

  8. Oh where do I start? Our family lexicon is rich, but perhaps the most permanent entry was born one summer night when my dad, the consummate banker, asked someone to pass him the “data,” meaning the lettuce, tomato and onion. We howled at his misuse of the word — but to this day, we ALL still ask for “the data.”

  9. Your post made me smile and got me thinking. We often had “Mustgo Soup.” It was soup made of various ingredients in the refrigerator that my mom said “must go” before they spoiled.

    My son Alexander (who we called Alex unless he got in trouble–then it was his full name: Alexander Earl), thought for the longest time that he had two middle names: Zander and Earl. His nickname became Zander!

  10. My eldest niece is staying with us at the moment and because I’m estranged from my brother, her father, and she and I only met each other face to face when we picked her up from the airport on Sunday, I’m finding that all kinds of family sayings are coming to the fore. One of these, which came up yesterday, is the application of ‘And there’s Auntie Jane’s bank’, which is usually said when someone is endlessly pointing out the most tedious of landmarks on a car journey!

  11. I always like these chance meetings we have with people that know a mutual friend!

    We don’t really have any phrases or words in my family – oddly!


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