ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: A very private language
© Another Day in the Country
I’m sure you’ve noticed that families have a tendency to sound alike. There’s a pitch to the voice, the cadence of speech patterns, the way they pronounce words, all similar.
It’s true for my family, I know. You may notice it when we answer the phone. There is a similarity between my voice and my sister’s. Where I notice it most is with my daughters. It isn’t quite so apparent as it was when we were all younger and spent more immediate time together, but this is a crew of talkers. We talk loud and we talk fast. Sometimes in restaurants, it is embarrassing.
My mother used to be troubled by this fast talking, interrupting bunch — we didn’t inherit this trait from her.
“Do I have to raise my hand?” she’d say, so that she could get a word in edgewise.
Mom was more of a quiet talker, more hesitant, less likely to rush in. We got this free-flowing, storytelling gene from our father who usually managed to be the center of any conversation.
There are also words, within a family’s patterns, that are used or not used.
In my childhood household, of course, influenced by both my mother and my father, the word fart was never to be used. This word was particularly offensive to my mother, partly because she believed her father at times of great frustration used to call his kids “little farts” albeit in German.
Swear words were never uttered in our family, not even under your breath. Mom didn’t even like it when we used slang — “holy cow” would bring on a frown; “gosh” was verboten.
A teenage friend of mine came up with a novel solution for someone’s flatulence. They had a dog known for letting fly with awful stinkers under the table. His name was Skippy so unidentified odor became Skippy’s fault. “Oh, Skippy,” would come the lament and everyone would laugh.
Skippy got blamed for smells he had nothing to do with — a convenient scapegoat. Eventually this segued into, “Okay, who let a Skippy?” Skippy became part of our family vocabulary. No one else knew what we were talking about. It was just our private conversation.
My father was particularly offended by smells and I remember when a Skippy took on another name. My sister was about six, on a long family road trip, and she was passing gas no doubt from road-trip food. “Oh, man,” my father complained, “You should at least whistle to warn a fellow passenger.”
A soft little embarrassed voice came from the back seat, “I don’t know how to whistle.”
Dad answered, “You could at least say woo-who.”
So “woo-who,” the warning of an eminent Skippy so you could turn down the window, became part of our parlance.
Now that I have a grandchild, it was inevitable that we would need acceptable phrases for bodily functions.
Skippy or Woo-who didn’t become the explanation of choice; its “pongu,” a Korean word. There’s this mischievous grin, “Baba, I let a pongu,” he says to me.
Anyone not in the family overhearing that sentence would be left completely in the dark from start to finish.
This private language is not just for families, it happens with friends. My friend, Renie, had a little nephew who lisped.
One day he was telling his aunt about school, “My buddy Slacey invited me to come play at his house.”
“Who?” asked Renie, not sure she’d understood.
“You know, my buddy Slacey who is my very best friend.”
How sweet, this innocent little kid talking about his best friend, only he couldn’t pronounce the “t” so Stacy became Slacey. Renie looked over at me and grinned.
“You know, Patter, (her private name for me) you are my Buddy Slacey.”
This noun came into being 40-plus years ago and the word stuck. My sister uses it. My daughter uses it. Buddy Slacey is synonymous with best friend.
This private language we have with loved ones is a bonding mechanism. Every time we repeat these nonsense words and phrases we are underlining our intimate connection. It’s a little like me repeating to you the phrase, “Well, it’s another day in the country.”
Last modified Jan. 17, 2013