Sunday 1 August 2010

Every family has its own language . . .

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
                          ~ In Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The above line has always fascinated me and I wonder about Tolstoy's acumen and penchant for detail. The opening lines of Anna Karenina are quite true and today I chose to extend this small piece of wisdom into language. And believe me every family has its own wee language system it follows. I am not talking about the predominant language here but small words here and there which only its members can understand.

No matter what class or social standing a particular family has, it has a unique system or certain 'peculiar' words and sometimes even phrases which enable the members to communicate with each other. And it is like a precious heirloom which is inherited down the ages.

In our family sometimes the actual word for something is substituted by another word which has no semblance to the actual word or its meaning but nevertheless we use it. The over hearer often often finds it very funny or even amused as the words are quite stupid to hear. This sprinkling of 'stupid' words belong exclusively to the domain of a particular family. Sometimes even cousins and extended family don't have access to the meanings.

I was under the impression that only our family has words as these but I observed that almost all families have words as that. And many times, it is predominantly children who use and coin those words. Children who are very small cannot refer to anything by a long and convoluted name and so shorten it or substitute it with an easy word. This word sometimes remain for long in the family. Fathers usually don't use those words but can understand them anyway.

Special coinages for food-items, nosy relatives, expensive items, the list can go on and on. Sometimes even basic words like water or spoon can actually be code words for something else. The ability of people to coin new words which are of course within the family, is a trait which is interesting and novel. The language for these words don't matter. It can either be in the native tongue or in a mixture of three languages. This characteristic is also like pet-names which are unique to each family.

Though I cannot ask you to divulge the special words, I would like to know whether you have such 'stupid-sounding words' whose meaning only you and your family members share.

Image courtesy: Internet


  1. yes there solostate...was my sons name for everything as he was learning to talk...and it has stuck around since then as an ad hoc all purpose word...

    apropo as i am with all my siblings this weekend...

  2. Dear Susan, I am back catching up on your beautiful writing.;) What a lovely post too that resonates so much with me now as my my parents just ended their visit with me here.;)
    Yes indeed, we too a share a language that might be incomprehensible to outsiders. We also make up words, my father particularly, which we use internally and have inside jokes as well.
    Beautiful post as always, I hope you are having a great weekend,

  3. Wo hooo!
    My dear Susan what you come up with in this great blog of yours is just amazing!
    Oh YES!!!
    We do have those at home. As i used to be the youngest one and loved my kittens, I had a silly way to speak to them which only my closest family knows and understands... and sometimes in a way to show how much they love me they greet me using them. Any over hearer must think we are stupid... so we keep it in quite privacy...

    Love Joy And MORE Smiles on this Glorious Sunday


  4. So true, Susan! Yes, we have our own special words that only the direct family can understand and once again you make an excellent point - these words usually derived from the fact that my younger siblings did not used to be able to pronounce certain words. And even though they can now, we all still use the word they coined as infants.

    I think every family has these individual peculiarities, and the Anna Karenina extract (a line which I treasure as one of the greatest in all of literature) makes this point perfectly and succinctly.

    This was a wonderful post, Susan, you have made a marvellous observation :)

  5. This exactly an example of my what I talked about in my last comment. You make life look very beautiful by its simple things... ohhh this post killed me.. I have been homesick all this week. Ya we also do have our own language. ;)

  6. Oh, Susan. I have to admit there are many of those stupid-sounding words that run in my family... especially between me and my sister. No, I won't divulge because then I'd be embarrassing all of us... so thank you for letting us off the hook on that! But language develops in curious ways, so it is no surprise that all families should have this sort of thing.

    Sometimes, when my sister and I talk, we can say things to one another that only the two of us can understand. Other family members and my husband sit there and stare at us like we're from another planet. And it's funny because we communicate perfectly well!

    If I may... use one of those two words you blogged on just a couple of weeks back... and say... this post was "Cool!" ;-)


  7. Brian:

    The words some of us have are exceedingly hilarious. Solostate??? Now what is that?


    Ah! Hope I don't make you miss them too much :) The jokes, words are all unique and we don't even think of sense when we use them or invent them. Glad to have you back in the rounds, dear Zuzana :)

  8. Dulce:

    I am sure you son and you also will be having many such words. And when it comes to pets, the sweet utterances are manifold and delightful.


    The words always remain long after everyone is grown and sometimes it gets passed to the other family as well. Thanks for the kind words, Sam. I am gad you liked this one :)

  9. Sameera:

    So sorry that this post made you homesick. That's the beauty of language and memory, you see. I wish I could make a dictionary of such beautiful words.


    All our families have such words and that makes all families unique. Some don't even realise that these words sound so stupid to the hearer as it is wired into the system. Just working our way into the nuances of language is so interesting and intriguing. Thanks for the "sexy" comment dear Nevine and as always, I wait for them :)

  10. we use 'ndo' if someone is ill or has hurt themeslevs (Igbo for sorry)and Ewu, when someone does somthing silly ( Igbo for goat) ... why? that's another story.

  11. stupid words yes! with family members, no!
    Me and my friend kinda combine two words with the same meaning but in different languages together.

  12. Oh yes - code words and side glances - double meaning talk too :)

  13. Charles:

    Welcome and thanks for the time here. Now that is very funny! I wonder how others who don't know the meaning will respond to it :)


    Lots of love :)

  14. Yuvika:

    Non-verbal communication, yes, yes. This is an interesting pass-time to see and wonder.


    With friends, yes. Your 'language' sure seems interesting. Wonder how you make those words up.

  15. Great post Susan..we have so many strange little things that go on in my family that the mind boggles or so says my husband. My Massachusetts accent comes into full swing when I am with my family. I don't even realise that I am doing it but call it the language of love, the language of family and it works. That is just one of many!

    Best wishes for a wonderful week and many thanks for all your comments during my travels!


  16. In each and every abode
    there is a secret mode
    of expression in code
    only the family can decode.

    My son used to say 'kakuni' for water. It neither sounded like Tamil 'thanni' for Malayam 'Vellam'. Where or how he picked up this word is anybody's guess,but itremained in our vocabulary for a long time. we still use it to irritate him. :)

  17. My lil bro and sis were expert in coining terminologies of their own.

    But no one bothered to correct them...your post drove me back by 10 years!!!

  18. Jeanne:

    It becomes all the more interesting when several dialects of the same language are in circulation. "Language of love" is a lovely way to describe that. I am glad that you had an eventful holiday.


    When I see your son some day, I should remember this 'kakuni.'

  19. John:

    That is the beauty of every family's own vocab. No one bothers to correct it and as days go by, it becomes THE language. Interesting. I am glad this post brought back memories for you.

    Joy always :)

  20. This is so true.
    I still use the word "Thakaoish" which my daughter coined for "dangerous" when she was small.
    (though there is no similarity in pronounciation)
    Its still stuck and we just use it.

  21. My dearest Susan,
    If you please could go back to my comments. there was something I explained I need you to know
    Thank you!

  22. Haddock:

    Thanks for sharing your sweet story with us. Wonder from where children pick those words.


    Third visit in a day. How lovely!!! Glad to see more of ye!

  23. Our family had one of those:

    "SHEEE-IT", which meant "SHEEE-IT!"

    Susan, will you pardon me for being me? Your blog shows great astuteness--and here I F'k it up. I would fully understand (appreciate?--grin!) if you hit the REJECT button.

    Love ya.

  24. So true, every home has its own collection of words or phrases... inserting them in tense situations can work wonders, it triggers those happy memories and then people end up smiling and laughing.

  25. Steve:

    Ah, got that Steve. We love you back dear Steve :)


    Inserting them in tense situations. Hmmm. Not always, though. I can be flared up by hearing that. Grinnn.

  26. That is so true! Has anybody every tried to create a study on this topic?

    I can't help but think of at least four or five words in our family without even trying.


  27. Ann:

    Welcome and thanks for writing your insight. Maybe someone has done a study somewhere. Let me check :) Every family is unique that way. Thanks for coming by. Do come again when you find time.



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