Babble’s Jabberwocky explains the peculiar language of the childfree culture.Mark Peters
Parents nickname the hell out of their children. One blogger‘s nicknames for her son Zeke include the nauseating and unoriginal (“Honey Bunny,” “Pumpkin Pie,” “Pookie Pie”) as well as the humorous and salty (“Captain Crap-My-Pants,” “The Boss,” “Slobbersaurus Rex”). Once past the pants-crapping stages, kids themselves are prolific and nasty word-maker-uppers. In my Catholic grammar school, our most memorable nicknames were “Crud,” “Dorko,” and – unfortunately for one little Catholic schoolgirl – “Steak-umm.” I was a summer camp counselor for eight years, and a mischievous camper named Lyla gave colorful names to everyone she encountered, including “pizza breath,” “chicken weirdo,” “trash head,” “weirdo breath,” “breath head,” and the vivid and somewhat delicious-sounding “potato wing.”
But parents and kids have some competition in the contest to insult parents and kids: the childfree movement – which glorifies the non-begetting life – has been an Oxford English Dictionary unto itself in the new-word department, coining a metric boatload of creative, caustic and controversial breeding-related terms. While there’s enough going on in the childfree scene psychologically, politically and demographically to keep a fleet of research universities busy for donkey’s years, I’m only going to focus on their vocabulary: terms such as baby rabies, bratzilla, diaperwhipped, crib lizard and crotchfruit.
Understandably, most parents brim with something less than joy when discussing the childfree. New Oxford American Dictionary editor Erin McKean speaks for many when she says, “Nobody is literally forcing folks to have babies, and until that happens, maybe the ‘anti-breeder’ rhetoric could be toned down a bit?” But the childfree scene isn’t homogenous. Gretchen Caspary – childfree and a Senior Research Associate at the American Society of Pediatrics – says, “… most of us do like children, and a few of us (myself included) even love being around children . . . I and many like me have chosen not to parent, and we are happy and comfortable with our decision. There is also another segment of the childfree world that is vociferously and – in my opinion, ludicrously – anti-child and anti-parent.”
Perhaps those are the segments where a term like “fleshloaf” – a yeasty name for an infant – was baked, though a nasty word doesn’t necessarily have a nasty intent. Like all slang, childfree lingo serves to bond the group and lighten the mood. David L. Moore, an IT professional and childfree organizer in Australia, says, “The childfree often feel frustrated, as everyone does. These words are a specific reaction to the specific frustration. They make us laugh, which helps relieve the frustration, I guess.” These frustration-relievers include:
If “ticking biological clock” sounds like a trite way to describe baby lust, maybe you’d care to call it “baby rabies.” As anyone with a parent of their own knows, it’s also possible to have “grandbaby rabies.”
A British word for a kid dating back to 1945 – before that, it was military slang for a novice, trainee or other newbie. Until the childfree crowd got hold of it, “sprog” didn’t appear to have any negative connotation.
In the gay community, this has been slang for “parent” since at least 1979, and it’s no shock that “breeder” is a staple of the childfree, who have nursed and bred many variations such as “breeder brain,” “breedermobile” and “breederville,” which refer to heads, vehicles and places full of kids. Of course, Babble’s “Notes from a Non-Breeder” column is a nod to this usage. A vivid alternative to “breeder brain” is “placenta brain.”
A very common childfree term that stands for Mother Obsessed with Offspring or Mother Oblivious to Offspring. The childfree lexicon is much nastier to women than men, and moo has a lot of close relatives such as mombie and womban.
One of many words for a kid, including anklebiter, bratzilla, nipplecruncher, fartling, shriekling and sperm and egg omelet.
At the risk of offending the childfree, this stuff sounds like something a kid made up. Booger brain, placenta brain, what’s the diff? Michael Adams – author of Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon and Slang: The People’s Poetry (forthcoming late 2007) – says the childfree lexicon “may begin with mockery, but the mockery isn’t very far from what’s being mocked.” Adams notes the childfree tendency toward rhyme and other language play; he says terms like “baby rabies” and “hump dumpling” – despite their literal meaning – may be “acknowledging the ultimate sovereignty of children and their language.”
It sure doesn’t get much more Beavis-and-Butthead-esque than “crotchfruit,” the most striking and successful childfree term, which the American Dialect Society voted Most Outrageous Word of 2005. (Full disclosure: I was part of this meeting, and I’m childish and Could the childfree be doing the child-laden a favor? childless, though not childfree). “Crotchfruit” is often used in the expressions “popped a crotchfruit” or “dropped some crotchfruit,” and there are many one-time variations (“great-grand-crotchfruit,” “crotchfruit-on-board”) and related terms (“crotch dropping,” “crotch trophy,” “crotch cricket”). Though most uses of “crotchfruit” are childfree and aggressive (“Rant!!! Crotchfruit at Starbucks,” “My crotchfruit’s screeching just *can’t* be annoying”), the word has caught on with at least some parents, who perhaps found “brat” and “rug rat” lacking freshness. Could the childfree be doing the child-laden a favor?
Slang is, in Adams’s words, “a natural linguistic release for human frustration,” and Zeus knows parents have more kid-propelled frustrations than anyone else in the solar system – particularly the childfree. “Without intending to do so,” Adams suggests, “these people have handed the instrument of release to parents” by adding so many kid-unfriendly terms to the slang vocabulary. The anti-mom volumes of the childfree dictionary are probably irredeemably foul – at least to my ears – but parental use of the kid-centric terms could have a positive effect: Adams speculates that “when parents appropriate the non-parents’ mockery, the edge is taken off, and the word moves closer to the center of parent-child linguistic behavior.”
But if repurposing the likes of “crotchfruit” sounds too daunting or stupid, there’s another task proposed by childfreester Moore that I’m guessing some readers will embrace: “I’d especially like to hear any amusing names or terminology that breeders may have for us :-)”