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Another Day in the Country

Family shorthand

© Another Day in the Country

As the years go by and our vocabulary changes along with trends, new words become familiar in speech and older words just disappear.

I briefly contemplated the title of this week’s column and thought to myself, I wonder if there is anyone reading this who doesn’t know what “shorthand” is?

In a few years, not only will shorthand, those abbreviated symbols that stand for words, be completely forgotten but there probably will be no one alive who knows how to do it. It will fade into the archives of history like hieroglyphics.

Back in the day, which more accurately was 65 years ago, one had to master shorthand and be able to take dictation at 60 words per minute to pass a course.

As a secretary, applying to work in a government office, I had to know shorthand even if my job didn’t actually require it.

Shorthand is the kind of skill that you have to keep practicing, so having procured a job that required the skill but didn’t have use for it, my shorthand skills quickly went bye-bye.

I know shorthand, somewhat, to this day and still, on occasion, use it. It’s what I call a “quick fix” when I need to write something down in a hurry. It will be a mixture of symbols and words that hopefully I can translate when the time is right.

Families often have a code, or shorthand communication, of their own. My mother used to send me to the store when Jess was little and say: “After you’ve got all the things on my list, you can get a little C-A-N-D-Y if there’s money left over.”

I was 13 and my little sister was a toddler, but she quickly caught onto the spelled-out word.

It didn’t take long before she’d call to me as I went out the door not to forget the “C-N-Y.”
It was as many letters as she could remember and from then on, the code word for candy in our family was “C-N-Y.”

My own daughter coined a similar phrase that she had heard.

I must have commented to my husband that the people we’d just visited had a child acting like a “B-R-A-T.” Jana quickly intuited the meaning of that word but shortened it to “B-R-T.”

We all laughed at her ingenuity and adopted its use. From then on, anyone who misbehaved was a “B-R-T” in our vernacular.

While working out at the gym today, I was comparing what I was doing to exercise techniques for posture improvement that my friend’s trainer had given to her.

“My mother had a code to remind me to stand up straight when I was a teenager,” Jane said. “She’d say C-O-B-I. Now I say it to myself. This stands for chest out, belly in.”

“I’m going to remember that one,” I laughed. “There is something different about the way we walk as we age — pitching ourselves forward as if the top half needed to get there before our feet. I’ll keep reminding myself, C-O-B-I.”

“My Mom had another one of those code words,” she added, “if guests arrived unexpectedly at mealtime and there was not an abundance of extra food, she would say under her breath, to us kids, “F-H-B,” which meant family hold back so there would be enough food to go around.”

Sometimes, in my family, shorthand was an action, not a word. If we were too noisy, too talkative, or too anything, Mom would reach over and give us a quick, surreptitious pinch. That got our attention, and we knew to stop whatever we were doing.

I really disliked that pinching business, so I evidently got in the habit of giving my own girls a certain look — eyebrows raised, head tilted, serious gaze fixed on the culprit — when they were out-of-line. It became known as “the grocery store look.”

I didn’t coin the phrase, of course. It was my children who called it out.

“You’d better be careful,” one would say to the other, half teasing, “or Mom will give you the grocery store look.” 

I’m sure it got that name because I often applied it in a public place like a grocery aisle, but it was equally effective in church.

I wonder whether Jana ever used it on her son, or was it just an outdated tool that I used on my kids when they were behaving like a B-R-T?

It’s another day in the country, and I’ve discovered that the grocery store look works on animals, too — not ducks, but cats respond if I call their name and give them that look. They get off the chair, the couch, or wherever they aren’t supposed to be. My sister says the look is lethal!

Last modified April 3, 2024

 

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