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Family Words. Bed wobbler, Saturday is longer than Sunday, Oopschlop. By Mark Peters for Babble’s parenting dictionary, Jabberwocky.

What sayings have you and yours coined?

By Mark Peters |

Does your baby like to slunch?

If you’re thinking, “My baby likes baby food, thank you, not some cutesy brunch-like blend of supper and lunch,” hold that thought. “Slunch” is a cutesy blend, but it’s not food-related. This mix of “slouch,” “slump” and “hunch” was coined by parents Stephanie Hawkins and Ian Finseth and perfected by their baby Audrey, whose posture is a work-in-progress.

You likely haven’t heard of slunching because “slunch” is a family word: a private term invented and used by only a few people – usually folks who call each others things like Mommy, Daddy, Honey and Sweetie. Unlike the secrets of Aunt Petunia’s real hair color or why Cousin Billy fled to the Samoan islands, family words are private matters that are amusing, neato and well worth sharing.

The genre of family words has been discussed by word-watchers since at least 1962, when the linguistics journal American Speech published an article by Allen Walker Read on the subject, but the current collector laureate of the genre is Paul Dickson, whose Family Words: A Dictionary of the Secret Language of Families was updated and republished by Marion St. Press in 2007. (Full-ish disclosure: I have a book coming out from the same publisher, but I’m only minimally corrupt, swear to Zeus).

The family words collected by Dickson come in almost every category and subject, but it’s not a surprise that many are kid-centric, since families and children are highly correlated. Some Brits came up with “bed wobbler” to describe a bedtime story that inspires mattress-quaking laughter. One family redubbed that ever-present childhood hazard, the boo-boo, as a “ninny-nanny-noo-noo,” and another calls plastic pants put over a diaper “crucials.”

Dogs are a part of the family, and sometimes they demand new words too. Dickson describes how the Klages, an Ontario family, started saying they had to “Lawrence the dog,” a slice of vagueness with a simple meaning – walk the dog. It seems their pooch became unmanageably excited when he heard the word “walk,” so a code word was needed, which they named in honor of Lawrence Welk for (I presume) his walk-sounding name.

The need to disguise information is a frequent theme in Dickson’s book. A creative, cryptic expression like “Saturday is longer than Sunday” may sound like a Zen-like paradox or a commentary on weekend binge drinking, but it’s actually a Texan’s clandestine way of telling a woman her slip is showing. Another family disguised sex with the word “connecting” – as in, “Mommy and daddy need to connect now; time for a video.” One family’s aunt was known for repeating her stories, so she instructed her nephews and nieces to let her know mid-rerun by shouting out “Twins!”

Not all family words are so subtle. The only ones I can remember using came through non-family sources. When I was a counselor at a summer camp for disabled and disadvantaged kids, one of my campers used to say, “I feel sick. I’m going to oopschlop,” if he thought he was going to hurl. That word spread amongst the counselors, until one day another camper dropped a catastrophic, life-changing, weapons-grade load in the pool, an event that would live in infamy but spawn another new word: “poopschlop.”

In the camp community, where vile bodily functions were as common as singing and boating, “oopschlop” and “poopschlop” caught on. They added welcome humor to some gross situations. That’s the beauty of family words. Their usefulness and humor make even the icky parts of living together easier to take.

Does your family have any unique words? Leave them below in comments.

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About Mark Peters

bcmarkpeters

Mark Peters

Mark Peters has written about language for Bark, Esquire, The Funny Times, Mental Floss, Nerve, and Psychology Today. He is a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly and writes the blog Wordlustitude. His book Yada Yada Doh! 111 Television Words That Made the Leap From the Screen to Society is forthcoming from Marion Street Press in September.

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13 thoughts on “Family Words. Bed wobbler, Saturday is longer than Sunday, Oopschlop. By Mark Peters for Babble’s parenting dictionary, Jabberwocky.

  1. coolteamblt says:

    My family calls lemon wedges in drinks ‘alligators’. When I was little, I thought they were alligators in a little lake.

  2. PattyB says:

    I found it hysterical when my oldest daughter started using the phrase “My panties are crackin’.” whenever her little undies would ride up on her. I immediately called my mother to share it with her and she got the biggest kick out of it also but not for the same reason. She told me I would say the exact same thing when I was little! Great minds think alike.

  3. Lisaloo says:

    “Murmels” – my then 2 year-old coined this phrase when he was introduced to M&Ms/Smarties at the same time that he was into a story by Robert Munsch called “Murmel, murmel, murmel”. I have no idea how he made the connection, I’m guessing through the m-sound, but every time he was given the little treat (by Grandma, of course) he would say, with great glee “Murmels!!!” and it stuck. Noone else has a clue what we are talking about when he asks for them, but Murmels is the Super Treat in our family. He is now 4 and I’m guessing our 16-month old will be verbalizing it pretty soon, too.

  4. DadAl says:

    Before our first daughter was born, we realized we weren’t too thrilled with any of the biologically accurate OR euphemistic words for her private parts. We knew we needed an alternative, so we had a few drinks and came up with the term “snooch”, which our family uses for either gender’s genitalia. It has a kind of comical, friendly feel to it. Highly recommended.

  5. stinkyface says:

    At summer camp, wetting your bed was called “marshmallow”My son’s have come up with our family’s phrases of “I’ve got the troll” (I’ve got this under control) and “baby soup” (bathing suit)

  6. Isay says:

    My family always used the word “gorpy” for something that was overly gaudy and not so pretty. My sister coined the term “Okeboke” (pronounced OAK-a-bOKE) which was to stick your tummy out. My daughter Lily has decided that any item used to wipe your face (napkin, burp cloth, etc.) is called a “dab-dab” because we always used to dab at her mouth and say, “Dab, dab, dab”.

  7. sweetbaboo says:

    My father and I had lots of special words that we shared. My favorite was a word/game that we would play when one of us was angry with the other. It was called “Shishaboo.” While it’s exact meaning is still unknown, loosely it could be defined as “I am sorry, will you forgive me and play?”The dialog would go something like this:Dad: Shishaboo?Me: No!Dad: Shishaboo?Me: No!This could be repeated for a very long time with each “Shishaboo?” getting more pitiful with each request and each “No!” getting less angry. Eventually the “No!” would be replaced with laughter and the phrase: “Oh I love you my shishaboo!” and both parties would hug and laugh.Needless to say, my mom thinks we are both a little crazy.

  8. sarahdoo10 says:

    “Hand me a butt cover.” – In our family, we’ve always used butt covers instead of diapers. “Ahpy Tot” – When my daughter was about 1 or 2, she would say that… it took us forever to figure out what she was talking about. We finally realized it was her words for ice cream cone. She’s 4 now and can say the words correctly, but we still like to use the phrase instead.

  9. sbr says:

    we’ve started using real words to stand in for other words.For example: legume = legarmistice = armScott Bakula = you got it! back

  10. misty says:

    My sister and I coined the term “palooka” to mean big and heavy and now my son is using it. We also use the word “poosky” to mean spooky or a little scary.

  11. poosemommy says:

    My sister coined “piggy-buggy and jago” for peanut butter and jelly, as well as “huggle”, a combination of hug and snuggle. We commonly refer to the kids privates as their “tootie” as in “wash your tootie good”. We also coined the term “poose” referring to a baby or child (I’m proud to see that one shows up in the Urban Dictionary!)

  12. Chuckie Sparkles says:

    My wife sometimes speaks to our daughter in the words that she’s made up for various things, which is not so awful until she strings three or four of them together into one sentence.Mom = MoreGuhk = MilkUngy = HungryArnie (I think) = BananaUngy Bun? mom guhk or mom arnie?When babies get woken up from naps by pooping, that’s being poopjacked. And getting poopjacked doesn’t happen the the child, it happens to the parent.Also, when your baby falls asleep in the car for a second and then wont nap, that’s getting Carjacked or Napjacked. So I’ve said to my wife, “I thought that I got napjacked on the way back from the store, but I was able to do a Car-2-Kibby-Transfer only to get poopjacked 5 minutes in. It was a total gastastic poopsplosion; I could hear it through the monitor.”Gastastic Poopsplosion is generally self explanatory.

  13. VNess says:

    My husband had never heard “pass-ie” or “binky” for pacifier. There is something about both of those nicknames that just grates on me. We call it a pacifier…BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT IT IS! (ala Eddie Izzard). If we really feel the need to shorten it we call it a “fire”, as in “Put in the fier”, instead of “put out the fire”.

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