What are your examples of family jargon?
November 7, 2008 1:27 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of "family jargon"? For example, a friend's father once told a joke to his family that poked fun at the French. He concluded by saying, "Don't tell anyone from France." Now, within their family, "Don't tell anyone from France" means "Let's keep this between us"--and they say it even if the secret has nothing to do with the French.

What are your examples of this kind of "family jargon," and what are the stories behind them? I'm looking for things that go a step beyond inside jokes--phrases that have worked their way into your family's private language. Phrases that would need to be "translated" for other people.

posted by Ms. Informed to Society & Culture (111 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
A running gag in our family is that animals commonly give their species equivalent of the middle finger to us. The gag will make its way into any sort of story involving birds, fish or other animals, e.g.,

"I spent all day watching the bird feeder, and all I got was a single blue jay that swooped in, look at the seed, gave me the feather and flew off."

"That fish is in there giving you the fin right now."

...and so on. Other in-jokes like that usually involve Cuban slang and other bits of vulgarity that lose a great deal in translation, but are polished and loved like old leather. :)
posted by jquinby at 1:46 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Growing up, my siblings and I had a habit of discussing highly inappropriate things at dinner. I don't know why, but if it involved dildos, sex noises, rude language or anything else of that nature, it got talked about at dinner. At first, my mother fought this, and suggested that we have "Dinnertable Conversation" - meaning something appropriate to be discussed at the dinnertable. After a while, however, it became clear that our idea of dinnertable conversation was not what she had in mind, and so now, anytime some says something inappropriate, we refer to it as Dinnertable Conversation.

Also, an interesting factoid: When my brother attempted suicide a while ago, he was coming out of the overdose in the intensive care unit of the hospital when the psych team arrived to evaluate him. He was still seriously out of it, but he kept saying things that we understood - inside jokes. Of course, for privacy reasons (to protect him from us, should he so choose to be protected) they wanted us to all leave while he was being interviewed. We protested, explaining that we understood better than anyone what some of the things he was talking about in his delirium actually meant. (For example, at one point, he started shouting, "BUT I INVENTED THE PIANO KEY NECKTIE!" - one of our favorite lines from Zoolander. Anyone who didn't know the movie, and didn't know how much we all enjoy it wouldn't have understood what he was talking about, but we got it.) Eventually, it made it easier to talk to him since we had our own shorthand language to talk about things. He was familiar with the jokes and things that we said, and we were also familiar with the things he was saying (even when they were seemingly nonsensical), and that really facilitated good communication which helped us to orient him as he came out of his delirium.

If you have any other questions or want some more examples, this is something my family does a LOT, and I'll be happy to wrack my brain for more! You can always mefimail me.
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:47 PM on November 7, 2008

In my family anyone who died has eaten the mushrooms

For random reasons, the smell of burning is often refered to as 'salad for dinner' (again, it's from a crap joke).
posted by twine42 at 1:49 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A sweet one from my family is the term "nacits", which we all pronounce "NACK-its" -- it was from my late grandfather's habit of noting the daily minutia on his page-a-day calendar. "Nacits" was his own shorthand for "not a cloud in the sky". We also sometimes use the word "abbider" -- I don't know WHERE that came from, and I'm not even certain that that's how you spelled it, but that's how my grandparents always referred to "the candy stash" ("....hey, where did you get that Snickers? Have you been raiding the abbider again?")

We also every so often, when wondering who did a certain thing, crack the joke that it was "the night clerk at the Hotel Statler." "The Night Clerk at the Hotel Statler" is actually the phrase that is the punch line of Grandpa's absolute favorite joke, which he still remembered and enjoyed telling with great frequency even when he reached the age of 93.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on November 7, 2008

There was a question very similar to this awhile back -- I distinctly recall one person saying that they didn't want to explain their family's in-jokes because that would take all the fun out of it. Can't seem to dig it up, though. If somebody else remembers the thread I'm talking about and could link to it, I'm sure the OP would get a lot of use out of it.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:02 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: When I was very young I wanted a goldfish. With my father's birthday approaching, my mother asked what we should give him, for a present. After I said, "a goldfish!" this became a term for a present which you give, but with the intention of using yourself.
posted by Rash at 2:03 PM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]

Whenever someone in my wife's family is talking to someone (usually within the family) and realizes that the person is not paying attention they'll start saying, "Blah blah Ginger...", until the person starts paying attention again. It comes from this Gary Larson cartoon.
posted by jluce50 at 2:05 PM on November 7, 2008 [8 favorites]

We've always used short descriptions to differentiate items even when the descriptions were no longer definitive. For example at one point we had three white trucks referred to as "the white truck", "the new truck" and "the Ford". The white truck was the oldest and got it's name to differentiate it from the red truck we had when we first got the white truck. The new truck was second oldest and got it's descriptor from being newer than the white truck. The Ford was the newest truck, but new truck was already taken so we fell back on the brand.
posted by Mitheral at 2:05 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Gribnodes. and "whole head of lettuce"
posted by crush-onastick at 2:06 PM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: @ mkultra:

So, basically, you want random people to tell you jokes that are funny to no one but themselves and their immediate families?

Actually, I'm interested compiling a list of the ways families *form* these in-jokes, and the ways those phrases get used in within the family (greekphilosophy's examples are spot on). They don't have to be funny to me, or anyone else for that matter.

@ box: I don't think this question is any more chatfilter than this, but if it gets pulled, so be it, and the metafilter gods have done their job.
posted by Ms. Informed at 2:08 PM on November 7, 2008

I've mentioned this in an earlier question about things me-fites parents say, but I'll put it here too:

My dad, upon seeing an advertisement for something her percieved to be worthless or useless, used to exclaim "I'll take two!" with the expectation that someone would ask him "Why do you need two?" His reply was "I'll need one to shit on, and one to cover it up with!" Eventually everyone knew the joke, so "I'll take two!" was as far as it went.
posted by owtytrof at 2:08 PM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]

Upon non-preview, since you're aware of the earlier AskMe, you may have already read my answer.
posted by owtytrof at 2:09 PM on November 7, 2008

One of my kids used to attend a school where their all-purpose mantra for proper behavior was "Be Safe, Be Kind, Be Legal." In our household, we have bastardized that as our all-purpose sendoff when someone goes out the door: "Be safe, be kinda legal."
posted by DawnSimulator at 2:15 PM on November 7, 2008 [12 favorites]

Within my family, we have always used "How nice." to mean "Fuck you." It comes from a joke about two Southern belles that my mom loves to tell in which Belle A is relating all her gifts from her husband to Belle B, who replies "How nice" after each gift. At the end Belle A asks Belle B what she has received. B replies, "Etiquette lessons."

"Etiquette lessons?"
"Well, I used to have a nasty habit of saying 'fuck you' when someone was showing off, but now I just smile and say, 'how nice.'"

So, there you have it.

Also, my father consistently says "I'm the old anti-genius!" when he messes something up. I have adopted this now.
posted by aliceinreality at 2:18 PM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]

my family and I still refer to the ledge of the rear window of the car as the "top dog". it's kind of a stupid phrase that came into being because our family dogs (those who could fit, anyway) had a habit of sitting up in that spot.
posted by dropkick queen at 2:18 PM on November 7, 2008

Growing up my Dad used to tell all the kids before we left the house to do anything "Don't be stupid".

Over all - good advice. But as we got older he started to shorten it. So as we'd leave the house to spend a night out he shout from his chair "D-B-S"

A few times in college I would get a letter from home and the only thing in it was a single piece of paper with "DBS!" written on it.

He now signs all his letters to me.

Sometimes I would still be stupid. Oh well :)
posted by Arbac at 2:19 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

After my dad (who can be really silly at times) came back from Germany on a trip, he developed a habit of saying "10, 11, 12" when he really meant "no" (nein). It took me about 15 years to work out why dad would talk in numbers.

This conversation on Gtalk has led to a new injoke about angel chicken.

In Bengali, chagol means "goat", and is also a nickname given to people who act foolishly. For some reason my dad calls everyone in the family "chagol". One time he was trying to get my mum's attention by calling her name, but it was only after he yelled out "CHAGOL!!!" that she responded. My sis signs off her cards as "Chagol". I used to be offended, but now whenever my dad calls me that I just bleat.
posted by divabat at 2:20 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: Grandmom and Grandpop were on a road trip with their luggage strapped to the roof of the car. Grandpop was disconcerted that other drivers kept pointing up as they flew past him. Again and again, he'd pull over to the side of the road to make sure everything was strapped in tight on that roof. It was! He couldn't for the life of him figure out what they were all pointing at.

"Check your luggage" is code for "Fuck you" at our house.
posted by juliplease at 2:26 PM on November 7, 2008 [10 favorites]

On a family road trip, one of my brothers taught the younger one that the bovines we saw along the road were "Charleys." For the rest of the road trip, Jim would excitedly yell "look at the charleys!" every time we passed a farm.
posted by Brian James at 2:26 PM on November 7, 2008

After I said, "a goldfish!" this became a term for a present which you give, but with the intention of using yourself.

In our house, that's (sadly not sourced internally, but cribbed from the Simpsons) a "Marge's Bowling Ball"

My father-in-law is a famous talker, and many of his stories involve the often complicated familial and social connections between the Italian-American population of Waterbury, CT. That he was a teacher there for 30 years just adds to the source material.

One year down at spring training, he was at the Cardinals camp in Jupiter, FL and ended up talking to outfielder Darren Bragg (a Waterbury boy). My father-in-law of course had taught half of Darren's aunts, uncles and cousins, and they were soon chatting away. Unfortunately, Darren was in the field at that moment, supposedly shagging flies, and had to end the conversation when Tony LaRussa began screaming at him from home plate. As my father-in-law is regaling us with the story (and I've at this point lost track of who was related to who and am just hearing a voice like the adults in Peanuts) he pauses and declares "He's a Calucchi, you know!"

So my wife and I end any slightly long-winded, hard-to-follow story (much like this post) with a dramatic pause and a "He's a Calucchi, you know!"
posted by jalexei at 2:27 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've got a number of these, many of them are really only funny if you know my dad or were there, but I'll share.

If somethings getting a little hairy and we're taking it too seriously, someone invariably says, "Quiet, quiet, Kitty's going to merge." One of my dad's first jobs was as an architect for a gentleman at a well-established firm. After a few months dad's boss, Mr. Finley, decides to take Dad and my Mom out to dinner with his wife to get to know them. Mr. Finley always had a William Shatner-esque way of talking and was very dramatic. Mr. Finley also did not drive, so his wife, Kitty did the driving. While on their way to the restaurant with the Finleys, Mom and Dad were making casual conversation and all was good, until the time came to get on the interstate. Mid-conversation, Mr. Finley blurts out, "QUIET! Quiet! Kitty's going to merge!" So now we use that in our lives as a tension lightner or just to get a giggle when things have gone weird.

The other one spans multiple generations. Early in the years of their courtship my dad's parents were doing a little driving around the middle Tennessee countryside. One Sunday morning, with my grandmother navigating, they stumbled onto a tiny little town called Pottsville. A few miles outside of Pottsville, the car broke down and it being Sunday and a one horse town, there was no help at all. There wasn't even a restaurant or diner they could eat at. Decades later, my mom and dad went on a road trip with my dad's parents to go back to middle Tennessee. My dad was driving and my poor mother who is not good with maps got stuck navigating. At the outset of the trip, my grandpa joked that as long as they didn't end up in Pottsville, everything would be fine. Of course, a few hours later and lost as hell, my mom looks up and sees the sign..."Welcome to Pottsville". So with us, Pottsville became like the ultimate horrible destination. When stranded in Miami a few years ago, I called home in tears because I couldn't get a flight home or anywhere for that matter. My dad's response, "At least it isn't Pottsville."
posted by teleri025 at 2:27 PM on November 7, 2008 [8 favorites]

Let's see if I can help.

-Along with Rash's goldfish example, we use the term "pickle jar" as a placeholder for a gift someone's getting when they ask what said gift is.

Ex: "I got your Christmas present today!""
"What is it?"
"A pickle jar."

This term came from a situation where my mother asked me about a present and I made up a stupid answer. The answer stuck. In fact, it became such an in-joke in my family that, one year for my birthday, I received money in... pickle jar.

-My mom likes reduplication. So dogs are "oggy-doggies" to her. I don't think she's used this form for any other word--no "itty-kitties" or "oggy-froggies"--but she does find Pig Latin funny. So maybe she was riffing off of that.

-We call hair ties "bebops." It took me a long time to realize that hair ties were, in fact, not called bebops outside of my family. This is probably another reduplication-type thing: the word has been around since I was really little, so it was probably influenced by babytalk.

-Out of my mishearing of my father's oft-used cliche, "horseshoes and handgrenades," we got the word "hangernails."

So, possible avenues of research for you: reduplicated words (babytalk that sticks?), Spoonerisms, and slips of the tongue. I can't think of any more specific examples, but most of my family's inside jokes come from one of us slipping over our tongue and mixing up our words.

For what it's worth, your research topic sounds awesome. :) I'm doing research on reduplication right now, so my brain's buzzing in that direction.
posted by ElectricBlue at 2:32 PM on November 7, 2008

Any conglomeration of humans and animals is a "kitty pile" in my family, as in "Come join the kitty pile, we're watching Star Wars". We had two extremely affectionate cats when I was a kid, and any person sitting or lying down was liable to get a lapful of warm, purring kitties.

-We call hair ties "bebops." It took me a long time to realize that hair ties were, in fact, not called bebops outside of my family.

We called them "pretties". I can't really explain why.
posted by muddgirl at 2:35 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: In my house "Strawberry Yogurt"* means "Do not talk about this at the dinner table."

* My Mom suggested we talk about Strawberry Yogurt rather than whatever actual disgusting topic my Dad, my Sister, and I were talking about one night over dinner. She succeeded in getting us to change the topic, which is good I guess, but we changed the topic to doing some hardcore My Uncle Is Sick and The Highway Is Greening**, which is our codename for making fun of my Mom.

** My Mom is not very good at French. 'My Uncle is sick and the highway is green' is a line from an old Peanuts cartoon.

It was a brutal house.

posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:37 PM on November 7, 2008

When I began dating my husband, everyone in his family would start laughing at the phrase "It was a very solemn occasion".

My father-in-law has a poem/joke from way, way back that goes....
It was a very solemn occasion
Mrs. Mckinley has died
With her face all awry
her elbows up high
and her legs to the sky.

Or something to that effect, with hand/face/leg gestures to match. But he hardly ever says the whole thing, because it's just the line "It was a very solemn occasion" that is used whenever anyone in the family wants to get an easy laugh.
posted by saffry at 2:39 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: My grandmother had a 50's Art Deco copper cat statue in her mudroom that chilled me to the bone from when I was a toddler until I was about 6. It was kind of like the evil clown doll from Poltergeist to me. It's got an evil grin and just looks malevolent. My grandmother lived in Massachusetts and I lived two hours north in Maine, so I only went to grandma's house once every other month or so. Grandma would sometimes put the statue in the coat closet, but sometimes she'd forget, so coming in the door was always an adventure.

One Friday my mother picked me up from preschool and told me in front of my teacher (who knew nothing of the evil statue) that we were driving straight down to Grandma's house for the weekend. I burst into tears and sobbed "Is she gonna put the cat in the closet?" My teacher apparently looked aghast.

In my immediate family's vernacular, "put the cat in the closet" is shorthand for hiding something upsetting from someone. The last time I heard it, my mother was discussing a friend of hers that had misplaced an anniversary gift:

"Me, I'd just tell him that I lost it, but I think she'd rather put the cat in the closet."

postscript: Grandma died when I was in my 20's, and left me the cat statue in her will. It sits in my home office and watched me type this. The cat and I are cool now.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:45 PM on November 7, 2008 [30 favorites]

When I was a little girl, I thought deodorant spray and bug spray were the same thing, so I started calling armpits "culachas" (cockroaches, in Spanish and toddler-speak). Now all my family uses that word, even my half siblings and cousins who weren't raised with me.
posted by clearlydemon at 2:45 PM on November 7, 2008

When Weezer and the Toadies were both pretty popular bands I guess my brother and I talked about them a fair amount. My dad realized that whatever these things were they must be hip and so he started using the word "weezertoady" as a synonym for "cool." This continues today.
posted by ecab at 2:46 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

This anecdote might be of interest to you (from this otherwise somber article about David Foster Wallace:

The Broom of the System was published in January of 1987, Wallace's second and last year at Arizona. The title referred to something his mother's grandmother used to say, as in, "Here, Sally, have an apple, it's the broom of the system." "I wasn't aware David had picked up on that," his mother says. "I was thrilled that a family expression became the title of his book."

posted by carrienation at 2:51 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

My parents moved away from their extended families before I was born. On a return trip to celebrate grandpa's birthday my oldest brother (who was pretty young at the time) begged and pleaded to be the one to give grandpa his gift. The present was a box of hunting ammo.

For the entire trip (probably two days then) my parents drilled into my brother not to disclose what the gift was. "Don't tell him its bullets!" they told him over and over.

Well, the car pulled up to grandpa's house and my brother ran from the car to the house with the gift in hand. Grandpa came outside and my brother waived the box in the air and shouted, "Its not bullets!"

Now, of course the phrase its not bullets is a well-worn family slogan.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:56 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

"What do you mean 'we', white man?"

It's an old joke... the Lone Ranger and Tonto are riding the plains. Suddenly five hundred Indians crest the hill, ready for battle. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, "Holy shit, Tonto. What are we going to do?"

Tonto: "What do you mean 'we', white man?"

Tonto's answer was shorthand in our house for "I'm not part of that group/I'm not going to participate/My sister did it, not me."
posted by workerant at 2:58 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was quite a tomboy growing up, and my very conservative mother would be aghast at seeing me sit in a chair with my legs open. She'd always yell, "Close your book!" when she wanted me to put my legs together. To this day, whenever one of the kids in our family (we're in our 40s now) sees someone sitting down with their legs open, we giggle about "closing the book."

She also referred to a dog's penis as a "lipstick." To this day I can't wear lipstick.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:01 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

"What do you mean 'we', white man?"

This was a family slogan in my house, too, except my mother would fill in "man" with whomever she was talking to, usually me or my brother. As in, "Whadda you mean 'we', white girl?" In our family, it meant, "Get off your ass and do it yourself."
posted by muddgirl at 3:05 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: When my mom was young, she thought the word 'misled' was pronounced 'myzulled'. Then any mispronunciation was greeted with a cry of "Myzulled again!" And the usage expanded to the point where we'll talk about advertising and politicians myzulling people.

When we were little, my mom used to keep us away from dangerous things like the iron or pans on the stove, by pointing at them and saying in a very serious voice. "HOT... BURN... KILL... DIE!" Over time, the usage expanded and the pauses were lost. If Mom saw you crossing the road without looking both ways she'd shout "Hotburnkilldie!" It's now been shortened further and become the family's generic warning cry. I respond quicker to a cry of "Hobber!" than a cry of "Look out!" or "Duck!"

When my brother was a kid, we were having a conversation about WWII and he pipes up with "I remember the Second World War!" (Meaning he remembered the time they studied it in school.) He was mercilessly teased by the rest of us and now any sort of unlikely boast is countered with "Oh yeah? Remember World War Two as well, do you?"

We also had "Sorry porridge." I'm afraid the origin is lost in the mists of time, but I'm pretty sure it's specific to our family. Basically if you were forced at mumpoint to apologise to a sibling, you could cancel it out by saying 'porridge' afterwards.
posted by the latin mouse at 3:05 PM on November 7, 2008 [16 favorites]

Best answer: If you google "family slang," it might lead you down some new directions.

These sites aren't particularly academic, but they're interesting. And they have anecdotes and more examples that you might be able to use. ;)

See also: ecolect. Here is a brief mention of ecolects and here is the Wikipedia category page for language variety.

Must resist links. So much variety. Must. Resist.
posted by ElectricBlue at 3:08 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This book has plenty of what you're looking for, is quite entertaining, and can be had for just a couple bucks used.
posted by jtron at 3:35 PM on November 7, 2008

When I was in middle school my mom worked nights and would leave me notes on the kitchen table after she got home from work and before I went off to school.

One night, she was cooking a chicken (a whole chicken) for dinner and propped it up and made it talk (not out of character) and the chicken declared that it was Duane, and it would be our chicken for the evening.

Well, since you are what you eat, the next morning my note was signed "Duane. I mean, Mom."

She's been Duane ever since.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:47 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Nachos! And Dory!"

Back when Finding Nemo first came out, my then-boyfriend and I didn't have a car, and lived 3+ miles from the theater. So we had to walk there. A little over halfway there, there's a freeway overpass. I have asthma and this hill would take every bit of breath/energy out of me every time.

So we get down to the intersection just past the overpass, and I'm wheezing and just not wanting to go on, and the boy says "But just think of what you'll get when we arrive!!!! Nachos! And Dory!!! :D" I kept repeating that phrase for the rest of the way to the theater.

To this day, when he tells me "Nachos! And Dory!", he's basically saying I'll make it through whatever is going on, and the perseverance will be worth it.
posted by Zarya at 3:52 PM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]

My family has (had?) a lot of good ones, mostly making fun of my dad:

One was "det det det." My dad was and is an extremely poor driver, who also had the habit of blaming mishaps on other drivers and labeling them "idiots." This happened on such a regular basis that we developed an imitation of him driving, wherein we would mime being at the wheel and say "det det det, idiots, det det det idiots," where "det det det" was the passage of time between each calling someone an idiot.

Eventually this got shortened to "det det det" and used as a nickname for my dad. I also composed a song parody based on Led Zep's "Black dog"

hey hey Det Det said the way you drive/
don't get in his car, you won't come out alive

posted by drjimmy11 at 3:55 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Most of the family sayings in our house came from other people's comedy - but the obscure bits that appealed to us, not the "King Tut" phenonmenon. Accordingly,

We use "Ogden Utah" to describe taking the long way - I think it was from a Robert Klein record, a routine about NYC cabbies.

"Edwina back in bowl" fills in for replacing anything or misunderstanding instructions (This was from Steve Martin's movie "All of Me").
posted by AuntLisa at 3:57 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I got into playing Monopoly for a while when I was young. So one time I was trying to bug my dad about something while he was changing clothes in the bedroom. I knocked on the door. "What? Who is it?" he says. "Electric company!" I replied. Ever since then, that has been kinda the secret password when you need someone to let you in.
Locked yourself out of the house? Electric company!
Trying to get back into the hotel room? Electric company!
Taking too long in the bathroom? Electric company!
posted by gueneverey at 4:02 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

1. My Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother) was a crazy huge personality with very strong opinions that she had no inhibitions voicing. Even years after she died, we still giggle sometimes thinking about what she'd say about this or that.
2. My Jewish family was fascinated when we learned about WWJD (What Would Jesus Do).
So, of course, we coined our own term: WWBS, or What Would Bubbie Say? It started out as a silly joke, but it's become a staple of the family lingo. My mother texted "WWBS?" to me just last Tuesday after Obama's victory speech. My cynical Bubbie would have been elated.
posted by bassjump at 4:06 PM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]

My wife and I were just laughing reading this and thinking of our family examples. Here's two.

There is an old Brady Bunch episode where Greg is talking to Bobby, all excited about something (maybe Johnny Bravo). Bobby ignoring him while watching cartoons says "Sounds great Greg!". That is often used in our house when you are trying to concentrate on something and someone else starts going on and on about some other topic.

Our favorite is the code word "Richie!" for when we spot someone who is heavyset. It caught on because her brother Richard ran into a formr customer, an older woman who hadn't seen him in a while. He had put on some weight, so when she saw him she exclaimed "Richie!" then puffed up her body and puffed out her cheeks, indicating how fat she thought he had gotten. After he told us the story, we adopted this as our own secret code.
posted by genefinder at 4:08 PM on November 7, 2008

The PTerry book 'Reaper Man' features the following between a confused Death and a little girl...
The child stared distantly at the landscape for a while and then said, 'I've got new socks.'
'You can look, if you like.'
A grubby foot was extended for inspection.
'My mum knitted them out of sheep.'
The horizon was given another inspection.
'D'you know,' she said, 'd'you know . . . it's Friday.'
'I found a spoon.'

In our house any non-sequetor is now answered with "I found a spoon".
posted by twine42 at 4:10 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

An ecolect! That is exactly what our family has. We have a language to describe cuteness, especially in dogs and other small animals -- we all love animals. I could describe its etymology and evolution over twenty years of my life, but I'm not gonna. "Ettum airs a wee one, et et et" is bad enough just plain, without elucidation.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:28 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: There is a scene in the movie "Forget Paris" in which Billy Crystal's character is taking his father-in-law across town and his father-in-law has to read the wording on every sign and bulletin board along the way. Occasionally, I'd notice my parents doing this on family vacations, and for 3 or 4 summers in a row, anytime anyone would start, I'd ask if anyone had seen "Forget Paris," and explain the whole scene, as a roundabout way of saying that I found it really annoying. Now, it's pretty common for any family member to just stop someone mid-bulletin read and ask "Have you ever seen 'Forget Paris?'" as a way of saying "You're annoying the hell out of me."

My dad is a big fan of goofy little puns and what have you, and he loves the joke "When you think it's really funny, but it's feeling wet and runny it's not," and will often follow anyone's protests of "It's not!" with "It's snot?" which has led to a lot of preemptive rewording of sentences. He'll often just say "it's snot" with no real prompting, to be funny, since he's just goofy like that.

When I was a little girl, I was asking for something, and, trying to get me to say 'please,' my dad prompted me, "You want it, what?" To which I replied "Right here, in my hand." That's now a pretty common response to anyone asking someone to repeat or clarify a question.

My partner and I often call things "moo points" after the following sequence in Friends:
Joey: [about Rachel's assistant, Tag] If he doesn't like you, then this is all just a moo point.
Rachel: Huh. A moo point?
Joey: Yeah, it's like a cow's opinion, you know, it just doesn't matter. It's "moo".
Rachel: Have I been living with him for too long, or did that all just make sense?

My brother and I often refer to my mom's "don't be stupid" look as the "After School Special" because it looks like it belongs in one of those horrible ABC spots.

My extended family is known to erupt with the phrase "I said it fiwst! [first}" during Scrabble games or any other discussion as a mock of my then 7-year-old cousin's insistence of her win during a Pictionary game 15 years ago. They will also randomly claim "Your hair!" after my 3-year-old cousin's remark at my Papa's bedhead and "Are you eyeballin' me?" after my uncle's teasing of the younger nieces and nephews.
posted by messylissa at 4:34 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

When my nephew was much younger, he sat down and opened a long series of presents on Christmas morning. Each one of those boxes contained clothing - which isn't exactly the most exciting gift for a 6 year old. So, one after another, he hurled the clothes backwards over his head into a pile - shouting "Clothes!" each time. It was really funny, and its been used by us since in almost any situation where something you couldn't care less about comes up.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:39 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

My dad has many of them. He once referred to WD-40 as SX-70, so that's now the name for that product in our family. He refers to the crunchy Cheetos as "cheese turds" and to mushrooms (which he despises) as "varmints." He once told my sister that when he was young, he thought he was "invisible," so now that is a synonym for "invincible."

My mother didn't escape either. One time we asked what was for breakfast and she replied "There's some good toast out there!" which now is used in situations where you are trying to put the best face on the fact that you don't actually have anything to offer.
posted by kindall at 4:52 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

This isn't a joke, it's just a jargon thing.

I suspect my parents couldn't figure out a non-lame way to refer to their daughter's private parts to their daughters...so my father decided to make a new term. Based on "perineum", he called girly parts "peri". For the longest time we thought that's what it was called. My sister once made fun of someone for "not knowing what a peri is."

When we were very small, my dad would walk around like a zombie with me and my sister sitting on his feet. (My sister and I are very close in age.) He called this "peri-pied" (parry-peee-ay.) My sister and I were both in French Immersion.

For some reason, my father's expression when my mother is very excited about something is "tickled up the bum." ie, "It was so exciting, your mother was just tickled up the bum!" Perhaps best for me not to ask about that one, but it amuses me that it was common parlance when I was 6-12. I wasn't until I was in my 20s that I rethought what that really meant. It's actually a lot of fun to use the term myself in polite company. It gives me a whole new respect for my dad.

Clearly, my dad is made of awesome, but that hardly needs to be said.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:54 PM on November 7, 2008

Stolen from a friend:

My husband and I know a man who loves to canoe. He woke up one beautiful Saturday morning and said to his wife, "Hey, let's go out to the lake! I'll go get the canoe ready!" She was in the middle of something complicated and gave a noncommittal "Mmmmph." He got everything ready and came back inside, only to find her very much not ready and not at all interested in a day on the lake.

"Honey," he said, "come on, let's go!"

She looked at him and said: "How did I get in the canoe?"

Which is what I now say when my own husband tries to dragoon me into his projects.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:56 PM on November 7, 2008

The punishment for doing something stupid that makes a big mess after someone warned you is that you have to clean up the mess "with your anus." (From Duece Bigalow)

The woman at my dentist's office has gotten into the routine of fake-"shanking" her son. They both got hooked on The Wire and just started doing it as a joke when they'd hug in the morning.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:07 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sometimes this family jargon can go on for centuries.

In my family, in Holland, there's a saying "en passant is ook werk", which means, "doing something in passing is work, too"—said when suggesting someone take care of something while doing something else, or going somewhere else. "En passant" is French meaning "in passing"; the family pronunciation is Dutchified as "impassant". The side story on this is that it was picked up during the Napoleonic era when a lot of French soldiers were stationed in the Netherlands. So this phrase has been used for 200 years in one family.

No doubt some of the above example have roots that old as well. Others in use in our family date from 50-100 years ago, as far as I can tell.
posted by beagle at 5:16 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

When my sister was very young (3 or 4), we were in the pet section of a Woolworth's or K-Mart looking at guinea pigs. She'd never seen a guinea pig before and wondered what it was. I said it was a guinea pig, at which point she exclaimed, both surprised and annoyed and a few other emotions mixed in, "A PIG!?!?! with HAIR!!!!!???!?!" Ever since then, now almost twenty years, whenever anything incredulous happens and the family's around, someone's sure to say, sounding a bit like Steve Martin saying "Wellllll Excuuuuuse ME!!," "A PIG!!!?!?! with HAAAIRRR!?!?!?!"
posted by msbrauer at 5:34 PM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Briefly: when I was younger the father of a friend was was one of those obsessive-compulsive types who insisted on "everything in its place; a place for everything". His name (the dad) was Fred V----. As 20-somethings we rented a cottage from him,and if he was going to visit we had to rush and clean up before he arrived. It didn't have to BE clean, just look clean- stuff put out of sight, all horizontal surfaces bare and wiped, no "hoo-ha" (there's another for you) lying around. We called this process "Freddy-ing". So now, in my circles, everyone knows what it means to "Freddy" the house/ the kitchen/ your room for guests.
posted by TDIpod at 5:44 PM on November 7, 2008

in my family, we spontaneously start singing the theme from the movie 'Brazil' when weird/annoying things happen (getting lost, getting in a silly argument ect.) it's a great way to make something frustrating into something funny. i think my dad started this...but the strange thing is he claims never to have seen the movie, so i have no idea how it came about
posted by genmonster at 6:29 PM on November 7, 2008

My dad's a teacher, and we've always referred to the first day/week of school as "re-entry." Not until I was a senior in high school did I realize that "Ehh, it's been a shaky re-entry" has, you know, astronaut connotations.

The death-glare that only my mother can give is known as the hairy eyeball.

When I was very young, my family made a patchwork quilt for my granparents on their 50th wedding anniversary. We referred to this as the watermellon, to keep any of the cousins from giving away the secret, and watermellon is now family code for a really good present.

Underwear are "hun-dyes," ambulance is "ambulix," and magazine is "mazagine," because that's how I pronounced those words as an infant.

Also, for some reason my mother has adopted "Holla" and "w00t."
posted by coppermoss at 6:34 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, great thread... love the word "ecolect" for this, as well. But I wonder now, is there a word for in-jokes between friends and/or lovers? I'm sure we could fill another, great thread with those...
posted by Maias at 7:06 PM on November 7, 2008

Once the family was driving home from a restaurant, when all of a sudden my mom looked around her and realized she didn't have her purse with her. She panicked, my dad said irritably, "Lauren, where is it?!?!?!?" and she yelled, "IT'S IN...IT'S IN...IT'S IN THE STUPID LOST PLACE!!!!!" So now whenever anything is lost or misplaced and someone wonders aloud where the lost thing is, we say, "Check the stupid lost place" or "It's in the SLP." We say this pretty much daily, now.

My dad has a strange quirk where he pretends like he doesn't know the names of famous people/TV characters and asks you to confirm them, which all began one night when he was "trying" to remember the names of the girls on Friends. It went like this -- ".......Phhoooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeebeeeeeeeeeeee?????????" real slowly, as if he was drawing it up from the depths of his memory. He still does this all the time, with all different names, and we always respond by saying, "Yeah Dad, it's Phhooooooooooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeebbbbbbbeeeeeeeeeee."
posted by tatiana wishbone at 7:29 PM on November 7, 2008

no "hoo-ha" (there's another for you) lying around

Oh, hoo-has. My thesis advisor and eventual boss/colleague who does awesome stuff (Mefi: 1, 2) would often say, when we were setting up meetings or fundraisers or presentations for our classes, that we needed to "invite the hoo-has" or "get the hoo-has involved." You know, the big wigs, the fat cats. Deans and CEOs and stuff. For me, hoo-ha had only ever been a child word for vagina. Man, the cognitive dissonance.
posted by whatzit at 7:50 PM on November 7, 2008

my dad likes to abbreviate everything, but in the military alphabet. "Uh oh, it's time for the old Delta Charlie" (Diaper Change). I notice my sister and I will sprinkle our conversations with similar word substitutions. Which is funny when I think about the fact that I don't actually know the phonetic alphabet otherwise.

My older siblings used to play "A rats" (which stood for Annoying Rats), and now we'll say "quit being an A-Rat!"
posted by purpletangerine at 7:52 PM on November 7, 2008

One time my boy and I were watching a Georgia Yellow-jackets football game on tv. Being that I'm not a huge football fan, my mind and eyes tend to wander toward other pursuits. I was admiring the uniformity of color which the fans exhibited in the stands at the game on tv; it was really just a sea of writhing screaming yellow! Well, I said, "look at all that yellow!" And he looked at me very confused and asked what I was talking about. I exasperatedly explained that I was talking about the fans. "Oh", unimpressed -- he had thought I was warning him of an impending bee attack or something.

From then on, anytime someone changes the subject sans segue we say "I think a bumblebee just flew by".
posted by diablo37 at 7:59 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: This doesn't just happen in families; any close-knit group will do. In one of the OR teams I work with, two members were getting a little snippy with each other, and the one bearing the brunt of it turned to the other and said "Don't you need a cup of shut the fuck up?" at which point they both busted out laughing. Since then "Do you (Does TedW...etc) need a cup?" is shorthand for "stop giving people grief" but is incomprehensible for anyone not privy to the story.
posted by TedW at 8:00 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

First story:

My family was out fishing one day, as we did a few times every summer when I was a child, and though the fish were biting, my brother wasn't having any luck at all. We had all caught a couple of lake trout and he had come up empty.

At one point, he whined -- in what was almost a caricature of a whiny voice, even though he was totally sincere in his whininess -- "But when is it my turn to catch a fish?"

Immediately, without so much as an entire second of pause, his rod jumped to indicate he had a fish on the line.

We all spent the rest of the afternoon, and most of every family fishing trip that followed, saying "But when is my turn to catch a fish?" in hopes of duplicating his luck.

Over the years, that's become a family catch phrase that gets hauled out whenever somebody is left out of something (e.g., everyone at the table has been served their meal, and one person is still waiting for the waitress to bring theirs) or there's something we want and just can't seem to get. While you can substitute other nouns for wish, and even other verbs for catch, you absolutely must say your 'But when is it my turn to verb a noun' in the whiniest voice imaginable.

Second story:

We were driving home to Bear Lake from Vancouver, after one of our usual holiday trips, and as we went through Williams Lake, my Dad, who always did all the driving back then, settled in behind an Overwaitea truck on the highway. (Overwaitea was a BC grocery chain, that I think has mainly been replaced by Save-On Foods in the interim.) For a transport truck, he was making good time, we were probably carrying or pulling a camper so not going that fast either, it was dark, and there wasn't a lot of room to pass on those two lane highways back then. We made a few jokes about how the truck was going to Prince George anyway, and then forgot about it.

It was getting dark, and we'd been in the car for 6 or 7 hours already so the passengers were all sort of half asleep by the time we got to Quesnel. We woke up when the truck stopped in a parking lot, and I asked where we were. Turns out, we were at the Overwaitea. In Quesnel.

While not falling asleep, my Dad had sort of gotten road hypnotized following that truck, and when the Overwaitea truck, which was not going to Prince George -- at least not without stopping first to stock up the Quesnel store -- went straight across the bridge, instead of turning right and staying on the highway, he automatically followed along.

These days, whenever anyone tells a story about an 18 wheeler, or about following somebody on the highway, or most especially about getting slightly lost, mention of an Overwaitea truck is soon to follow. Uses might include things like:

"I made a wrong turn and ended up somewhere I'd never been before."
"Tell me, there didn't happen to be an Overwaitea truck nearby, did there?"
posted by jacquilynne at 8:15 PM on November 7, 2008

Whenever someone in my family is on the crapper we call it, "talking to Dave". There was a guy at work named of course, Dave who was always in the bathroom so we would always check there first when we needed him.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:19 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: My mother tends to go through phases of making a particular dessert a lot. After a few nights on the trot of having trifle, and being a particularly snotty/precocious teenager who read a lot, I declared 'Ah, the ubiqutious trifle!' when it came out again. And promptly spent 5 minutes explaining what it meant, and that it wasn't an insult.

Nearly 20 years later, trifle is now universally offered in the family as 'Would you like a plate of ubiquitous?'
posted by ArkhanJG at 8:21 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know how I forgot this one, but in my partner's family, they refer to onions as "unions." While my partner's brother was deployed with the navy, he wrote an email to everyone about his stay in a particular port, and bemoaned the french onion soup they had for dinner one night. He went on and on in the email about the 'french union' soup and capped it all off with "YUCK! UNIONS!"
posted by messylissa at 8:43 PM on November 7, 2008

Our phrases come from loved comedy, rather than shared history. But they're wonderful shorthand:

"We're OUT of glue" whenever we want to indicate we don't care much about the other person's predicament. (A Christmas Story)

"You could sell that in a shop" is heartfelt praise. (The Castle)

"Ah, the serenity" when it's anything but. (Again, The Castle)

In fact, I think it's time to watch The Castle again.
posted by kestralwing at 8:57 PM on November 7, 2008

Oh, God, we have a million of these.

Share of the Pig. My parents watched a BBC series called something like "A Private Affair," set during World War II. Some person in the series had a contraband pig, during rationing, and was wheeling and dealing in shares of the pig when it was eventually butchered. Apparently the characters were always talking about and trading off their "share of the pig." This became my parent's word for the money in their paychecks - they'd bring home their paychecks and say "That's my share of the pig." I never knew they got it from a TV show - I thought everyone said it, it was a normal expression -- and during my first job, when I got my first paycheck I said "Hey! My share of the pig!" and got some strange loks.

Scrid. Scrid is a skillet dinner made of rice, sliced kielbasa, red and green pepper and onion, sauteed together. My mom used to make it and call it "sausage and rice." One day my mom said "It really needs a name," and my dad said "I call it....Scrid." It stuck.

Ready When You Are, CB: The punchline of an old joke about Cecil B. DeMille. Used to say "I'm ready" when it's time to go somewhere.

Make Two Trips! Used when offering to help a family member with some task like clearing the table. Began when we were visiting my old-school uncle and aunt. Uncle relaxes in retirement, while Aunt works as hard as she ever did running the household. So we're all sitting after dinner lolling over coffee and cake, and my aunt comes through the dining room lugging a large mattress along with an armload of blankets and pillows to make our extra bed on the floor. Gallantly, my uncle says "aw, honey, don't do all that!" - so we of course think he's about to help. Instead he helpfully suggests "Make TWO trips!"

It was a big banana: Said after you lob a non sequitur. Origin: One day my somewhat sickly grandmother comes over for Sunday dinner, as she often did. We all eat heartily, a nice chicken dinner with stuffing and veg, and she picks. My mom asks "are you feeling all right? You didn't eat a lot." And my grandmother sighs and says "It was a big banana." Of course everyone is confused (there were no bananas at dinner) but too polite to say "WTF?" because maybe my grandmother is just losing it, and we should be polite. Eventually, though, she realizes that it makes no sense and explains she ate a banana in the afternoon and it filled her up too much for dinner. So, to this day (22 years later), any nonsequitur is a big banana.

There are many more. a great question; I've often told myself I should sit down and write these all down while I still remember them and their origin stories.
posted by Miko at 9:20 PM on November 7, 2008

Washing your hands is sometimes referred to as "LeVar[ing] your Burtons." sometimes we use a little Spanish, for no particular reason, so "lavar your manos" became "LeVar your Burtons." Thanks, Dad.

My poor grandma had a quickly advancing case of Alzheimer's. She once called my mom and asked, in a concerned voice, "Did you know that Sal died?" Sal (her best friend) had died maybe two or three years before. We use this one when something kind of obvious comes up. "Oh, did you hear that Barack Obama won the presidency?"
[put your hand on other person's shoulder; look very concerned and perfectly serious] "Did you know Sal died?"

When we were little, we referred to boogers as "welbies" because of a joke my mom loved: "What's green and makes people healthy? Mucus Welby, MD." So when we would run up to babysitters saying, "Oh! I have a welby!" they would be completely mystified.

Much of our shorthand comes from the old Pink Panther movies. My dad and I like to greet each other with, "'Elloooooo, Catooooooo, you filthy yellow swine!" (We usually keep the latter part to ourselves unless we are in private...) We also like to use "Nuttt anymorrre!" ("But that's a priceless Steinway!" "Nuttt anymorrre.")

My brother and I have a joke from an old SNL Christmas skit. Victoria Jackson and Paul Simon are stranded on a desert island, and Paul Simon gives her an endless string of conch shells wrapped crudely in banana leaves, while Victoria Jackson has made a huge effort to go pan for gold, smelt it, hunt a pig, tan the leather, and make a working wristwatch, which she wraps in handmade paper that she printed with potatoes and squid ink. So she's trying very hard to be appreciative of what she receives, and she shakes the gift, and says, "Oh! It's a... it's a shell!" So before a gift is opened, we always say, "Oh! It's a... it's a shell!"
posted by Madamina at 9:27 PM on November 7, 2008

My family consistently refers to "yogurt" as "yogrit". We have a family dish known as S.O.S. (same old shit or shit on a shingle) that consists of browned hamburger meat in cream of mushroom soup with some sour cream added, poured over white rice. We use the term "gighandi" to refer to something really, really big. My sister's missing Rs were referred to as "the Boston accent" for years (none of us had never been to the East Coast, much less Boston).
posted by mynameisluka at 9:40 PM on November 7, 2008

Unknown to my sister and I until a few years ago, my parents had a secret code between the two of them. It's a silent gesture, where you mark with your hand a line at your bicep, almost like you're saluting your arm twice in rapid succession. It's used to denote when someone has "taken a crap as big as your arm."
posted by fontophilic at 10:21 PM on November 7, 2008

My family (parents and siblings and me) are so mature.

If someone is going to the bathroom to do #2s, then it's considered polite to say, "Does anyone need to go to the toilet?" This is code for "I'm going to stink out the room, so this is your last chance." If you don't ask the family first and they find out, you get a bollocking. It was always fun to yell it out as you're sprinting through the house and being chased to the bathroom to lock the door before you get pummelled. We had a family of 7 and one bathroom.

We used to have occasional family "meetings" to discuss important things together, like where to go for Christmas. We called them Family Foreskins (derived from Forums).

Thinking about this makes me realise how important those little linguistic/dialectical nuggets (heh) are in having a sense of attachment and belonging to your own family. I think of all the goofy nicknames and traditions we have and feel warm all over.
posted by tracicle at 11:10 PM on November 7, 2008

I learned only recently that families besides mine say "MIK/more in kitchen" and "FHB/family hold back" to signal whether it's okay to ask for second helpings before the guests do. But I'm pretty sure mine is the only one to use "FHBGMPOT," which is what my great-grandmother would say when her son-in-law's people came to dinner. It means "Family Hold Back, Guests Making Pigs Of Themselves."

"Soooup? No soup! Soooup?" while making slurping noises/faces. From an old relative's Navy days, with a mess sgt who served the soup with a turkey baster to avoid spillage.

"Use your own good judgment, dear," from my grandmother and her mother. It translates roughly as "You are clearly arguing this point with me out of pride/rebellion so I am not going to keep on about it, but we both know I am older and wiser and you will save yourself a lot of grief if you do it my way." Applicable to everything from who to marry to which tureen to serve the soup in.

"What's for dinner?" "Golf balls and tobacco."
"What's for dessert?" "Wait-and-see pudding."
Both mean you haven't decided what to cook yet and Robbie will you please go outside and stop following me around the kitchen?

...my family thinks about food a lot.
posted by hippugeek at 11:48 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

After my family moved from one house to another about 15 years ago we lost all our ski boots. To this day if someone can't find something we occasionally remark that it's "probably in a box marked 'ski boots'."

Also, if someone mentions anything sounding like badges we say "Badges! We don't need no stinking badges!" (except replacing badges with the word used).

My sister, the youngest, frequently and famously turns family dinner table conversation towards herself. This happens when discussing others' travel plans, others' upcoming birthdays, whatever. We've taken to exclaiming in a high voice "What about me?!" when she does this or just for laughs.
posted by ODiV at 11:58 PM on November 7, 2008

I was visiting my snowbird* parents for christmas one year, and my mom proudly showed me a hideous lamp she had bought at the flea market. "it only cost eight dollars!" Making a sour face, I asked "american?" So now that is our term for "that thing you just bought is awful/you were overcharged"

we had to change it to "Canadian?" for a bit when the canadian dollar was worth more than the US dollar

also - hollandaise sauce was re-named space shit, after my mom unsuccessfully attempted to teach me how to make it.

*canadians that spend the winter in florida
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:16 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whenever someone in my family is even vaguely lost we say "Look kids, Tower of London, Big Ben!" as they did in National Lampoon's European Vacation. This was especially effective in 1986, when we moved to England for a few years and were very often lost.
posted by bendy at 1:42 AM on November 8, 2008

This thread is making me laugh so hard. I just remembered that my extended family has TONS of this, mainly to do with people's nicknames, but they're in Bengali and will take a while to explain.

My sister once got an email about her rehearsal "scheldue". For a while we kept asking each other what our "scheldue" was. Somehow or other we also started asking for "myfs" (knifes) and "skizzors" (scissors).

My boyfriend and I have some injokes as well, mainly arising from when one of us has said something totally stupid. One time we were deciding where to get dinner, and the options were Nando's or Indian takeaway. My response? "I'd normally get Nando's, but Nando's takes too long to load." (yes, who's been online too much lately?) One time my boyfriend saw a toy of a monkey in a Superman suit, and exclaimed "SUPERMAN IN A MONKEY SUIT!" - so now I say that to him to tease him.

The most random one (aside from grilled angel chicken drumsticks), and the first one we ever had, went like this:

Us: *reading some kid's book about the sea and talking about pirates, sea life, etc*
Me: Do a pirate accent.
Him: *squawks and goes on about random things involving crackers, which makes him sound old lady like*
Me: The heck? Why do you sound like an old lady?
Him: OLD LADY? I thought you want a PARROT ACCENT!
Us: *dead from laughing*

Now whenever I want a laugh I just ask him to do a "parrot accent", and he turns into Polly the parrot who can't decide on whether or not they want crackers.
posted by divabat at 1:53 AM on November 8, 2008

Two things:

My sisters, nieces and I have this thing where we call each other "puta", pronounced "pooh-tuh". It's a curse word in Spanish. We grew up in a border town and so were surrounded by Mexican culture and are familiar with all manner of curse words. It's never said in a cruel way, to us, it's a strong term of endearment or at times we may say it teasingly. In fact, when our sister passed away in 2006, when we all wrote notes and placed them in her casket, most of the notes were addressed to "Puta SistersName". This started with my older sisters so I don't know how exactly it originated. This does not translate well to non-family members, especially in our hometown.

We also have this thing where we say "yeeeeeee" when something happens favorable to you and not to another family member. For example, if I got the last piece of cake and my brother didn't, I would say "yeeeeee" in a teasing "I got the last piece, you didn't ha ha ha" kind of way. Many a sibling fight started with a yeeeeee.
posted by SoulOnIce at 3:11 AM on November 8, 2008

We were playing a card game one Christmas which required you to say the names of the cards aloud as you played them. As the link suggests, it's a fairly dull game, so one of my cousins started talking in a funny voice and the face cards became Jock, Queer, Kong and Ass. In later years you could be forced to retract your cards if you called them the wrong names. (Which names were 'wrong' depended on whether there were more adults than children playing or vice versa.)

I know of another family whose ecolect included the phrase 'Cooking Fats' to refer to felines. I assumed it was some weird variant on 'Pussy Cats', but apparently it's because their Dad was ranting about their pet cats one time and committed a spoonerism which stuck.
posted by the latin mouse at 7:06 AM on November 8, 2008

My mother in law has a heavy Chinese accent and syntax. Whenever she wanted to point out that we didn't know what we were talking about she'd say "you foo yousef" (You're fooling yourself); similarly "you go ouside in cold go hee hee hee" is a general admonition against doing things you know are stupid (based on her conviction that laughing outside in cold weather would bring on the flu). We all say these things now. When my husband first started saying them to me I thought he ws out of his mind, but now we all use them, including my kids. The first time they heard their grandmother use these phrases was hilarious. They thought we had made them up.

Great idea for a thread. You need to write the book.
posted by nax at 7:15 AM on November 8, 2008

For a while in late high school, my sister and I would make an almost daily trek to Sonic to get out of the house and we always ordered Cherry Limeades. My mom asked one day whether we were going out to get a "raspberry fizzy-dip". The name has stuck, and we've accidentally ordered them that way a few times also.

My mom also was too paranoid to send her full credit card number to me in an email for some reason, so she sent the first half to me in an email and gave me the second half over the phone. Relating this story to my sister, she said, "what, someone's gonna read it as it WHOOSHES by over the internet?!" So now "whoooosh!" is a sign that my mom is being overly paranoid about something.
posted by purplecurlygirl at 7:59 AM on November 8, 2008

Natalia Ginzberg's autobiography Lessico Famigliare, uses a lot of these phrases. It's translated as The Things We Used to Say.
posted by featherboa at 8:14 AM on November 8, 2008

At a restaurant (one of the old cafeterias, actually) when I was a child, the server behind the counter asked me if I'd like a dill pickle or a sweet pickle. My response was, "Yeah, I'll have a pickle." To wit, anytime we're together as a family, and someone makes a gaffe that is the result of not hearing properly, someone will inevitably shout, "Yeah, I'll have a pickle!"
posted by chaosscontrol at 8:20 AM on November 8, 2008

We ask our 15-year-old son "It's 10 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?" to tell him it's time to take a shower and get ready for bed.
posted by lukemeister at 9:58 AM on November 8, 2008

Best answer: Every dumb movie from the 70s and 80s seemed to feature a deadbeat dad that left a mom to raise kids by herself and the story in all these movies was along the lines of "he went out for cigarettes when the boys were 3 and 5 and never came back."

After our first daughter was born, my wife and I were often at wits end. We have no immediate family in our state, much less any within driving distance so for the first few months we were on our own and coupled with all the sleep deprivation and the mind boggling aspects of parenthood (comedian Louis CK describes it well as "No one ever told me having a daughter entailed about two years of cleaning poop out of a tiny vagina. No one ever talks about that.") my wife and I developed a shorthand joke for "I'm overwhelmed right now" which was basically if you were changing a diaper and the baby was screaming and the cats were fighting and suddenly she peed on the changing table and you had to get a new diaper, you'd just shout to no one in particular "That's it! I'm going out for a pack of smokes!"

My daughter is about three and a half now and we still say it from time to time when things get to be a bit too much. It's kind of a secret phrase for "can I tag out and let you take over for a minute?"
posted by mathowie at 12:55 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I did one of these as a kid the first time I met my grandmother. My mom coached me to say "Hi, nana!" because she didn't like being called grandma. So, when she got off the bus I went up to her and said "Hi, hi-nana!" After that we always called her hi-nana.

Another time my family was at a restaurant when my sister and I were kids. We hadn't ordered yet, and just had the basket of bread. No one was paying attention to her, and my sister says "This is the most delicious cheese!" We were all really surprised because there was no cheese. She was eating the butter, so sometimes we refer to butter as "the most delicious cheese."

Also, for some reason my girlfriend and I refer to drinking milk as "getting a little help from an old friend." I really don't know why. But, whenever someone in life, or TV or whatever, refers to an old friend, we turn to each other and say "Milk!"
posted by snofoam at 1:34 PM on November 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Also, once my girlfriend and I were visiting my sister who was living in Tokyo in an apartment building called Tameike Tower. For some reason, after 10pm they turned off the escalator (the building was on a hill), so we had to walk up a bunch of stairs after being out drinking or whatever. So now whenever we are going up a bunch of stairs we yell "Tameike Towah!" in sort of exaggerated Japanese accent.
posted by snofoam at 1:40 PM on November 8, 2008

My mother walked into the room while the rest of the family was in the middle of a conversation and asked, "Who died?" We weren't talking about anyone dying, and "Who died?" became our response to any question or statement that has nothing to do with what we're talking about.

A neighborhood kid named Jeremy was notorious for getting into trouble and concocting excuses why he wasn't responsible. For example, when he started a fire in the kitchen, he claimed that when he opened the drawer, a pack of matches burst into flames. So whenever anyone uses a particularly lame excuse, we call it "Pulling a Jeremy."
posted by Linnee at 1:51 PM on November 8, 2008

This one is kind of silly. My wife and I have a shared belief that some stories (such as stories about crazy/interesting things that happened during the workday) need to be saved until we are actually eating dinner or at least drinking alcohol; something about consuming food or drink while we discuss the story helps us to savor the "juiciness" of the story.

So at some point around the time we recognized this phenomenon, I was about to tell my wife something and she said, "No, this sounds juicy, save it until I have spoon in hand." I.e., she wanted us to actually be eating before I told her the story. That has morphed into us saying, "I've got some great spoon in hand," which means, I've got something really juicy to tell you.

Under the "spoon in hand" tradition, we would never start telling a juicy story while a wineglass is near-empty; you have to replenish the drinks before the story gets told.
posted by jayder at 1:52 PM on November 8, 2008

Linnee's tale about "pulling a Jeremy" reminds me of a hilarious phrase coined by a friend of mind. Hilarious to me, at least.

My friend had a longstanding obsession with fine Middle Eastern rugs, an obsession that started in his teen years. At the height of my friend's obsession, there was a department store where he frequently went to peruse the selection. A salesman he dealt with had the last name of "Sbaidi" (I may be spelling that wrong) which was pronounced "Spay-Dee."

Sbaidi sold my friend a rug that had serious problems, or misrepresented the provenance of the rug, or did something that resulted in my friend's deep dissatisfaction (I don't remember precisely what Sbaidi did). My friend went to the department store to confront Sbaidi and when Sbaidi saw my friend coming, he started power-walking in the other direction in an attempt to avoid my friend.

Ever since then --- for the past twenty years --- my friend and I have used "pulling a Sbaidi" as shorthand for "making a hasty and embarrassed exit."
posted by jayder at 2:01 PM on November 8, 2008

I used to say "Is that bad?" as a joking reference to things that I did that I knew would be considered morally questionable or eccentric. For example, "The line for the bathroom at John's party was so long that I just urinated off the balcony. Is that bad?"

I said it so much, that my wife started saying, "Na na na?" in mimicry of the rhythm of "Is that bad?" It was her way of saying that "is that bad?" had become a question that I uttered so frequently that it was not necessary to actually say the words.

So when my wife does something eccentric or amusingly in defiance of convention, she will smile and say, "Na na na?"
posted by jayder at 2:20 PM on November 8, 2008

When I was a kid, my family went on a beach vacation to Florida with some relatives whose way of vacationing was very different from ours. They were almost obsessively neat, and we were slobs. One morning one of the relatives knocked on the door of our hotel suite and nicely asked us if we wanted her to iron our t-shirts. We had never heard of ironing t-shirts and ever since then we have laughed about it.

So now, when we think someone is being overly controlling or uptight about recreation, we will make some comment like, "Can you also iron my t-shirts for me?"
posted by jayder at 2:48 PM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

"Yump, Yonny, yump!" as an encouragement. It's from some ancient joke about a little Dutch boy jumping onto a departing ship--the punchline is "Yump, Yonny, yump! If you can't make it one yump, make it in two!"
posted by hippugeek at 6:29 PM on November 8, 2008

In Northern California, where my family used to vacation, some of the beaches have huge rock islands at the edge of the water, such that you can climb up on one side, sneakers dry, and then clamber over to the other side to sit above the surf. My parents and I were standing on the ocean side of one of those one day, and I asked my mother to hand me the camera so that I could take a picture. As she handed it to me she said, very seriously, “Don’t drop it in the water.”

My dad and I started laughing at her, she started laughing at herself, and ever since then “Don’t drop the camera in the water” has been my family’s response to being told anything that we already know full well.
posted by felix grundy at 7:37 PM on November 8, 2008

My wife and I have some friends who are notorious for leaving a gathering without saying goodbye. They just disappear into the night. We call it pulling a Liebs. Whenever we want to leave something without letting anyone know, we simply say to each other, Let's pull a Liebs and get out of here.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:49 PM on November 8, 2008

We know a family, let's call them the Harveys, who whenever they eat fast food, don't think it necessary to settle on one restaurant. In an attempt to satisfy all the family members' various tastes for that evening, whoever is going to get the food will often visit several fast food restaurants and then take it all home for them to dine on. For example, Wendy's for dad, mom's getting Chick Fil A, and Taco Bell for the kids.

So we have taken to refer to visiting multiple fast food restaurants as "making a Harvey run."
posted by jayder at 8:42 PM on November 8, 2008

I was watching a terrible horror movie- one of the recurring themes was this shot of a room, empty but for a dilapidated rocking chair. The chair would rock for no particular reason to the movie- it was just there to be atmospheric.

My husband walked up behind me and while the Thematic Chair rocked, scared the crap out of my by whispering right behind me, "Haaaaaaaunted chaaaaaaaaair."

Now, whenever something odd happens in the house- something falls off the counter, there's a weird noise, whatever, we'll whisper to each other, "Hauuuuuuuuunted chaaaaaaaaair."
posted by headspace at 8:44 AM on November 9, 2008

One time when my wife and I were in graduate school, the landlord was in our living room to clean out one of the air ducts in the ceiling. He stood on a chair and unscrewed the vent, to remove it from the ceiling, and as soon as he removed it, a big clump of dust cascaded down onto my wife's new white sofa.

My wife, who is not known for her tact, saw this happen and exclaimed, "You better not have ruined my sofa!"

The landlord, who was a mild-mannered, quiet guy, blurted in a somewhat pathetic way, "Gaaah, think POSITIVE!"

So now, whenever one of us accidentally screws something up, resulting in criticism from the other spouse, we blurt, "Gaaah, think POSITIVE!"
posted by jayder at 9:59 AM on November 9, 2008

OK... I've raised my step-son from the age of 5 (he's now 32). His mom abandoned him and his dad when he was 3 and she would only pop in to see him for the day when it was convenient for her to do so. On one such occasion, I had just finished baking my son's favorite sweet rolls on a Saturday morning when she showed up to take him for the day (unannounced). The rolls had just come out of the oven and I wrapped them up for him to take along. As I reached for a roll of paper towels to send along with them, his absent mom touted,"When you've been a mother as long as *I* have...... " ending that statement with "... you carry these things with you." That statement, "When you've been a mother as long as *I* have..." immediately took on a life of its own. We use it in our family for any situation in which we feign competency where there *is* none.
Also our family has a term to describe the act of fiddling absent-mindedly with any object; usually culminating in the object being broken. Boys do this a lot more that girls do. I assigned the term "tweezling" to this activity. "Stop tweezling!" means they'd better put something or other down ASAP before it's broken.
posted by mickeefynn at 10:37 AM on November 9, 2008

okay, second ones based on having read these and realizing that i have great ones from friend circles:

my boyfriend was trying to tell me about his adventurous streak one night when we were still getting to know each other, and said, "Someday, I'm going to head up to Toronto. Then, I'm gonna head west from there until I hit Montreal."

I just kind of looked at him and blinked before saying, "Uh, you're gonna need a good, amphibious vehicle," before I cracked up laughing. Now, anytime someone says anything really stupid, one of us will say, "Yep, then I'm just gonna head west until I hit Montreal," in response.
posted by aliceinreality at 7:14 PM on November 9, 2008

My father loved to tell my brother and I untruths and half-lies. I think I was sixteen before I realized that 'awesome power' is not a synonym for remote control. I'm not sure when he started this, but that was just what we always called it in our house. He and my mom also called knives 'ka-nifs' in a similar manner to the way that knights are 'ka-niggets' in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Based on the way my brother used to jump around when he had to go to the bathroom, when you need to pee you say you're 'doing the potty dance'.

My brother and I also sang a lot as kids. We had learned the 'do your ears hang low' song, and were singing it to our parents after repeated practicing, when we misremembered a word and sang "Can you swing them over your shoulder like a constipated soldier" not realizing what we had said. Our parents tried not to laugh, and used to get us to sing it for their friends. We though their laughing was directed at the funny faces and actions we made while singing, which only encouraged us. Finally one day my mom broke down and told us what constipated mean, which, considering poop is hilarious when you're eight, we thought was great. We have sung the song incorrectly ever since.
posted by billy_the_punk at 9:14 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Now, anytime someone says anything really stupid, one of us will say, "Yep, then I'm just gonna head west until I hit Montreal," in response.

Ha, this reminds me of a similar expression in my family: "Birds are mammals too, y'know." which my mama said in all seriousness one day. I don't remember what the context was, but it was met with a distinct "WHAT?!"
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:48 AM on November 10, 2008

My sister and I lived with out aunt and uncle on more than one occasion when we were kids since my dad was in the military and sometimes went on long trips due to it. As a teen we watched the movie "Uncle Buck" with John Candy. We started calling my uncle "Uncle buck" and one day after visiting his mother and going to her church we were having a conversation and my Aunt said "Where's that Uncle Buck?" I don't remember the exact joke but I started calling her Aunt Buck and then my cousins became Scott Buck and Aaron Buck, and then names just started changing , so my Aunt and Uncle to my cousins was "Mom Buck" and "Dad Buck" , the Cousins were "Cousin Buck", I was "Niece Buck" or "Sarah Buck."
posted by agentsarahjane at 1:49 PM on November 10, 2008

When I was a child, if my mother was really annoyed, she would threaten "I'll shoot you with a shovel". As in, she'd be so angry, she wouldn't even need a gun to shoot us. A shovel would do.

and also would help with disposal. we feared her

posted by tiny crocodile at 3:13 PM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

As a teenager I decided I wanted to become a vegetarian. My Mum decided that if I was eating this strange new food everyone else would, and for a while Linda McCartney's range of 'faux meat' products became the order of the day.

This lasted for a while until it became clear they had clear side effects to one's digestive tract, seriously increasing the amount of wind passed. Therefore in our house and still referred to now, 'to do a Linda McCartney', or even 'someone's McCartney-ed' has passed into the family language. Linda I'm sorry, you may have pioneered vegetarian food, but I'm afraid this is how you will be remembered in our family.
posted by Augenblick at 1:38 PM on November 11, 2008

In our family, picking something that looks immediately appealing (say in a shop or from a restaurant menu) is known as 'doing a Burglar Bill', after a children's book which we read incessantly as children. In the book, the eponymous character steals things with the line 'that looks nice - I'll have that!'
posted by Jakob at 1:39 PM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Growing up, my mother was a linguistic change agent. Some highlights:

Cat > Kitty > Witty > Wit-wat (cf. 'witten')
Cheeseburger > Cheesemurk > murk-murks
Dog > Norgle (I have no idea where that came from)
Urinating > Meemurs (Originally to us as toddlers, then to beasts, e.g. me, out in the yard, to our dog: "Do your meemurs!")

My wife has appropriated murk-murk to mean "poop", in the context of our dog, which has now morphed into "Has Rocco made any flying cheeseburgers?".
posted by everichon at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Growing up, my mother was a linguistic change agent. Some highlights:

Cat > Kitty > Witty > Wit-wat (cf. 'witten')
Cheeseburger > Cheesemurk > murk-murks

Oh, God, my mother did something like this once -- it didn't pass into the family lexicon, but it's become a great little story.

My mother is one of those people who is bound and determined to try to time her cooking so every single course of a meal is finished at exactly the same time, to the point where she sometimes gets panicky if it looks like she's not going to pull it off. She also can sometimes get tongue-tied if she's flustered. So: One night she was trying to make Swedish meatballs with noodles for dinner. She started the meatballs first, set them in the oven to bake...then started the gravy...oh, wait, we need to do something about a vegetable, let's check the fridge...oh, crap, wait, how to the meatballs look, did she need to turn them....oh, wait, we need to start the water boiling for the noodles...but wait, first I have to turn the meatballs -- oh, crap, now the gravy's almost boiling and it's not supposed to -- wait, we need to start the frozen vegetables -- oh, shit, start the noodles -- wait, when was the last time I stirred the gravy, shit -- oh, wait, turn the meatballs again -- but I can't because I have to start the vegetables -- but the gravy -- but the noodles -- but --

And so on, and she was working herself up into a frenzy of rushing hither and yon from oven to stove, trying to juggle everything. And just when her frenzy was reaching a fever pitch, someone walked in and asked her what we were having for dinner.

And in her flustered state, instead of saying "Swedish meatballs with noodles," my mother blurted out, "we're having Meedlenoosh!"

It fortunately was enough to stop her in her tracks and snap her out of it, and she cracked up about it and realized she needed to chill. About a week later I was flipping through one of the family cookbooks, and I happened to flip past the Swedish meatball recipe and noticed my mother had crossed out that name and carefully printed "Meedlenoosh" in its place, and she still calls it "Meedlenoosh" now and then.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:15 PM on November 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Near the end of the Terry Schaivo epic, I was on my way out the door for a few days, and I told the wife, "Don't Schaivo the dog while I'm gone." Unfortunately, it's caught on, and now we both regularly use "don't Schaivo" the dog or cats to mean "please feed" the dog or cats. We were probably going to hell anyway.

posted by lost_cause at 4:36 PM on November 13, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'm late, but for archival purposes, I wanted to put my family's jargon in here. When I was small my dad drove a Volkswagen Rabbit. Whenever he would squirt the windshield washer fluid, he would say it was the rabbit inside the car jumping up. The two squirts of fluid were the rabbit's "ears." To this day, I still tell people to turn on their rabbit when their windshield gets dirty!
posted by bluefly at 2:35 PM on November 17, 2008

I love these types of things!

My favorite of my family's unique terms is pootza. It is our word for passing gas. My oldest sisters had a babysitter who spoke Italian. The story is that pootza means stinky in Italian. I do not know if this is true. Ever since then, that's the term we used. When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade I used the term with friends, not realizing that that term wasn't the one everyone used!

I also love acronyms and some of them have become common family terms. DHBM stands for Decision Has Been Made. I coined this one before my first wedding. It was a way to say that the final decision on some wedding detail had been made and the subject was no longer up for debate.

UYBJ = Use Your Best Judgement. My boyfriend's mother used to say something like "Use your good brain" as a general, but unnecessary, suggestion. We now use this before we leave each other.

I know my family has tons and tons of these. We're all very into language. Generally, they help you say something you want to keep private or they just make daily interaction more fun, or help you feel like part of the group.
posted by k8to at 1:31 PM on November 28, 2008

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