Watching my 2-year old daughter learn to communicate verbally is a daily reminder for me of just how difficult language acquisition really is. My husband and I have taught her some cutsey words like “num num” for food, and “poopy” for… well, you know. And I call her a variety of nicknames like “Monkey,” “Punkin’ Pie,” and “Peanut” (to which, ironically, she’s allergic). But eventually, we’ll have to teach her the correct words, including her name.

Which reminds me of that old Steve Martin skit in which he suggests that parents teach their children all the wrong words for stuff. On the first day of school, the kid will ask his teacher something like, “May I mambo dogface in the banana patch?”

I was a child of the ’70s and ’80s, and was greatly influenced by “Valspeak,” the language of the southern California “Valley Girls” (or Vals, for short). It wasn’t unusual to hear me say, “Like, oh my God!” or “I’m sooo shure,” as I flipped my hair (with wings, of course). Lots of things were (and still are) “totally bogus,” “rad,” or “bitchin’.” I liked “dudes,” “hunks,” and even some “nerds,” but never “dweebs” or “dorks.”

I’m sure that my parents were, like, totally thrilled by my language.

I really don’t remember the rest of my family using many words or phrases that were known just to us. But here are a few that I do remember:

“Haste makes waste every time.”
My mother would say this when she was getting ready to go somewhere. I assumed it meant that rushing around at the last minute caused her to make mistakes and be late (which she always was).

“I have the poorlies.”
My grandmother would say this when she was feeling ill. When she was extra tired, she would say that “her get up and go got up and went.”

“The Whittakers”
Apparently, there was a family my grandparents knew who either had a lot of junk in their yard or drove around with it on their car. Every time we saw a house with a junky yard or a car piled high with everything they owned (like “The Beverly Hillbillies“), my father would say, “Look, there’s the Whittakers!” I never did find out who the Wittakers were, but their name was synonymous with a whole lotta junk. Whoever they were, I do hope they eventually resolved their storage issue.

Not Your “Auntie Blattablatt”
When we were kids, my cousin – who is like a sister to me – was unable to say my name, and instead called me “Blatablatt.” To this day, she still calls me this and has taught her kids to call me “Auntie Blatablatt.” She finds this to be hilarious. I find it annoying. I’m thinking of a name for her right now that also begins with a “B”… but this is a family blog, so I’ll just leave it at that.

The “Strawberry Slippers”
You know how kids – especially ‘tweens and teens – like their privacy. If anybody walked in the room when cuz and I were talking on the phone about something “private,” we would immediately bring up “those red, strawberry slippers.” I think the origin of this phrase started one day when she was actually wearing a pair of red slippers with strawberries on them, but I can’t quite remember. Whatever the origin, the strawberry slippers became code for “somebody’s listening!” We got a lot of use out of it when we were kids, but we also find it handy today when one of our kids – or husbands – walks in the room while we’re talking. (Hopefully they’re not reading this now, or we’ll have to find another code phrase!)

Just For Fun ~ A Few California-isms:

We call our major roads “freeways,” not highways or motorways, and we refer to them by number. “Take the 101 to the 405 to the 73…”

We refer to the length of a trip in time, rather than in miles. “How far is it to Santa Barbara?” “Oh about an hour. An hour and a half when there’s traffic.”

We eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Never supper.

Women carry a “purse” or a “handbag.” Not a “pocketbook.”

We go to “El lay (L.A. – Los Angeles),” “Ess Eff (S.F. – San Francisco),” and even “Slow (SLO – San Luis Obispo).” But not once in my life have I called it “The O.C. (Orange County)” And I grew up there. Must not have been “a native” (someone born in Calfornia) who came up with that one.

So, I’m gonna, like, go veg out now, you know? Whatever!


Written for the 54th Edition, Carnival of Genealogy: The Family Language.

Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth O’Neal
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