Family Words

My friend Zarah and I were talking about how getting your kids to try new things is all in the way you frame them. To get Zarah and her brother to try paté, they didn't say "this is smushed up animal organ"; they introduced them to 'spready meat'. (then I laughed for ten minutes, then agreed that was quite clever). I was thinking about the way family expressions get immortalized, until suddenly you realize you're in mixed company using completely ridiculous terms for things.

Photo by Cassidy
Eve was over at my Mom's one night for dinner. I can't remember what she was eating, but she kept asking for 'spread cheese'. My mother, quite reasonably, offered her cream cheese, and took a bit of abuse over it. After considerable strain and strife, it emerged that 'spread cheese' was actually shaker Parmesan. And now, when we're having spaghetti (or when Eve is having pretty much anything)? Yeah, we're all offering and asking for 'spread cheese'. Even though 'sprinkle cheese' would be more accurately descriptive.

When Angus was a baby, he was sent two lambskins as gifts. According to the people who sent them, the kids they knew who had them absolutely adored them, and when they were upset they would ask to go to bed, where the lambskins were used as blankets. Angus was completely uninterested in the lambskins. When Eve was very small, however, the lambskins gradually became objects of comfort and adoration that verged on the sacred. She called them (well, the bigger one, which emerged as the clear favourite), 'Fuzzy'. Well, she called it 'Thussies', to be accurate, but we interpreted it as Fuzzy, and this is what it became as her speech became clearer. One day when my friend was over with her two little girls, Eve was throwing a fit and while I was holding her I said 'Claire, do you mind handing me Eve's Fuzzy?'. She looked around and, quite reasonably, picked up a stuffed lamb and gave it to me. I thought that was pretty smart, given what I'd made her work with.

We still call McDonald's 'Old McDonald's', just like Angus always did (not that we ever go there or eat there or anything. We just talk about it in the abstract, as in 'that evil bastion of inedible evilness Old McDonald's has hockey cards again. Too bad we never go there.')

Eve's friend who lives next door is named Victoria, and her sister's name is Alexandra, but they call each other Pia and Zaza. Victoria's mother says she's often found herself in the middle of a park yelling "Zaza, where are you?", and then feeling like a dork.

I like these little family shorthands. I remember in grade six one of my teacher's talking about this exact phenomenon, and saying, "well, it's not like one day a kid calls tomatoes tommy-toes and then the mother says 'now, make sure you call them tommy-toes from now on'." Now I see how it happens. It happens when you live with people every day for years and you understand each other like nobody else does.


Mary Lynn said…
We refer to McDonald's as Old McDonald's, too. Hana used to call it that and the name just stuck.
Anonymous said…
I love the little shorthands. My daughter calls Annie's pasta 'Bunny Kraft', which I think would anger both Annie's and Kraft. And we all now say 'carry you up' instead of 'life you up'. They're like little pieces of childish sweetness.
Rosemary said…
We called our Lambskin 'flat kitty'. Holly really wanted another cat and this was the best we could do. She found the bin of them at the Ikea and said they were soft like a kitty and so we caved and bought one. Then it got juice spilled on it and well I learned that flat cats cannot go through the washing machine and still retain their softness. RIP flat kitty.
Julie said…
we've got a few from the jellybean and then a couple from me and my bilingual up bringing and mixing up of language which i still do.

garietta - his best friend gabriella (now the entire daycare calls her garietta!)
pa-u-ter - computer
bidi - blanky
restaurant - mcdonald's (not that we ever go in and get the toys; hey look it's nerf week! sorry this deforesting mega conglomerate is not on our list of restaurants!)

I'm sure there are tonnes more but these are the only ones i can think of at the moment

push-push - windshield washer fluid
open/close the light
point of pizza

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