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What Is Family Slang?


What Is Family Slang?

Family Words by Paul Dickson (Marion Street Press, 2007)

Question: What Is Family Slang?

Hoo-hoos, ghost poop, and foochacha. These may sound like creatures out of Dr. Seuss, but you're more likely to find them in your own home. Along with woozies, pummies, and bedooftey bums. These funny-sounding words, you see, are all examples of family slang or (as the British say) kitchen lingo.

Family slang refers to words and phrases (neologisms) created, used, and generally understood only by the members of a family. As a rule, these coinages do not appear in any conventional dictionary.

More than a century ago, British social reformer Helen Bosanquet observed that in many families "the very language used takes on a shape of its own which may be hardly intelligible" to those outside the clan:

To the outsider these expressions and turns of thought seem meaningless or silly; and it is for this reason that the family slang or patois, which I believe nearly every family possesses, is so sedulously concealed from the world at large.
(The Family, Macmillan, 1906)
More recently, author Paul Dickson (see The Language of Baseball) uncovered hundreds of such silly expressions in his book Family Words (Marion Street Press, 2007).

How silly? Consider these various family phrases for the tube of cardboard inside a roll of toilet paper: daw-daw, taw taw, doot-do, der der, hoo-hoo, and to-do to-do. (Of course the proper term, if you happen to be in my house, is roo-roo.)

Then there are the family names for those dust balls that gather under furniture: pummies, mung balls, goofa feathers, koodla, slut's fluff, fizziewiggle, smirf, leap jeeps, woozies, and foochacha. In one household, dust balls have been dubbed ghost poop--a phrase reserved by another family for foam packing peanuts (which are known to my family as flogneedorfs).

Not all the words and phrases in Dickson's book are silly. Some of the neologisms serve a valuable social function and deserve to move beyond the family. For example:

  • Applaudience
    An audience that has come to applaud; specifically, those composed of parents and grandparents at children's piano and dance recitals.

  • BarrisLand
    The place one goes when embarrassed, such as under a pillow or behind one's hands.

  • Dofer
    Something that isn't perfect but will "do for" now. (And fanow, by the way, refers to "anything put away temporarily.")

  • Game 6
    A synonym for "disaster"--a reference to the sixth game of the 1986 World Series, lost by the Boston Red Sox after being just one pitch away from victory.

  • Menuitis
    Having so many choices that you take forever to make up your mind.

  • Ventrilofart
    The act of passing gas and blaming it on somebody else.

Finally, here are a few examples of family slang submitted by readers of the About.com Grammar & Composition blog:

  • Missmas Cards
    Cards that you send after receiving Christmas cards from people to whom you had no intention of sending cards--and which will surely arrive at their destination after Christmas.
    (submitted by Tanja)

  • Kaboof
    The area under the stairs (the crawlspace).
    (submitted by Paula Pocius)

  • Foofie or Too Foofie
    It can be a dress that has too much lace or too many frills, but it can also be a flower with a lot of small petals. It can be used to describe someone's hair when they’re having a bad hair day. It’s usually used to say that something is not quite to your taste.
    (submitted by Carol)

  • Pakde
    An affectionate term for "uncle," derived from an Indonesian word.
    (submitted by Nova)

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