FAMILECT AGAIN

DOMESTIC DIALECT FEATURES FAMILY FIXATIONS

Families and Older Generations Stock Vector - Illustration of grandparents,  seniors: 114207016

In 2016 I wrote about so-called familect, the ‘microdialect’ originating in the home*. Also known as ‘family slang’ and ‘kitchen table lingo’, this is one of those underappreciated, under-researched varieties of ‘in-group’ language which, like slang and jargon, make use of the same techniques (metaphor, irony, analogy – alliteration, rhyme, assonance, reduplication) as poetry and literature and at the same time offer a window into the private worlds of ordinary people: their preoccupations, pleasures and ways of bonding. Familect can also be a sharing ritual within the household whereby humour and creativity and inventiveness are enjoyed across generations. Kids are adept in creating new words from an early age and at playing with existing language to create new and colourful expressions, while older family members have their own ways of coining expressions and recycling or reworking the language of their youth, so the home is also a laboratory in which to cultivate new literacies.

Just recently the cApStAn Translation Team reviewed the topic and provided a useful link-fest and bibliography…

Today another article, by my friend Connie Chang, featuring interviews with specialists in the field, was published in the National Geographic

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/family/article/why-your-familys-secret-language-is-good-for-kids?loggedin=true

Familect can provide a useful subject for research and field work as part of exploring word creation and language innovation for school or college projects. Its users can be encouraged to look more carefully at the words and phrases they have invented themselves or shared or just heard, and asked to consider…

  1. Why was the expression invented? (usually because the object, idea or feeling described is precious or important or super-familiar. Sometimes because there isn’t an existing word or a memorable word to describe it in standard English)  
  2. What is it that makes these words funny, understandable, memorable? Is it that they sound like something else, remind you of something already familiar? Or is it the spelling and sound of them itself that makes them amusing?

In fact the school itself may be a source of similar novelties, as Tabitha McIntosh wrote in the TES this summer…

https://www.tes.com/news/schools-teachers-does-your-classroom-have-its-own-unique-language

Grandparents with Kids are Walker Stock Vector - Illustration of happiness,  cute: 153811703

*https://language-and-innovation.com/2016/07/23/family-language/

One day in July

On Burnout, Decompression, Re-entry Syndrome – and Calling It a Day

Still mulling over the words of Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation, who described plans by the UK Government for a general relaxation of COVID-protection policies in ten days time as ‘moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity’, I was invited to join a discussion on London’s Voice of Islam radio station about the notion of ‘Pandemic Fatigue’ and its implications.

The full discussion is here, with my contribution beginning at 44 minutes…

We can see then, that ‘pandemic fatigue’ can sometimes be a useful, neutral, technical designation, and this is how the WHO itself presented it in 2020…

We can become aware, too, that ‘pandemic fatigue’ is a very conflicted term: although used by the WHO and by ‘ordinary’ people to describe their very real exhaustion, it has also been used, like ‘compliance fatigue’ by authorities to blame the public for disobeying…

https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/01/07

Despite being locked down myself, in exile for the moment, this was another busy day, with long, mainly heated and indignant discussions taking place on Twitter of what ‘indigenous’ might mean in the context of the UK, triggered by the assertion by Tory MP Andrew Bridgen that the ‘indigenous’ population of the UK will not tolerate immigration. The offending word is an ambiguous and context-dependent term currently. Recent examples have referred to Canada’s First Nations in the harrowing context of deaths in schools where indigenous children were confined. I don’t think it has been used by any reputable specialists in or about the UK, and its use at a time when an England football team of very mixed origins is being celebrated seems crass and provocative. (We don’t know who the ‘original’ inhabitants of the British Isles were, because there was no written record until 55 BCE, but they certainly immigrated, or invaded and colonised as did all the subsequent settler groups.)

On BBC Radio Bristol I once again answered listeners’ queries on the the etymology of popular expressions. This time, perhaps aptly in present circumstances, the phrase was ‘call it a day.’ First recorded in 1838 by US writer Joseph C Nolan in his Charcoal Sketches – A Study in the Humor of the Old Northeast, it was in the form ‘call it half a day’ and seems to have reflected the mixed feelings of weariness and resistance on the part of workers from the Philadelphia slums, deciding to knock off early or to award themselves a half-day holiday. By 1919, as the USA wearily emerged from war, the usage had mutated into ‘call it a day’: in 1938 ‘call it a night’ was first recorded.

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I called it a day myself, at nine o’clock on a warm evening, pleased to have been awarded nine out of ten in a facetious Twitter competition for a photo of my hand, and recalling the louche philosopher Gurdjieff’s realisation that he had progressed from drinking from glasses to drinking from “what are called ‘tumblers'”…

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READ MY LIPS – a Catchphrase is forever

Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catchwords.

– Robert Louis Stevenson 

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In the end, Mr. Trump’s simple promise to ‘Make America Great Again,’ a catchphrase Mrs. Clinton dismissed as a vow to return to a racist past already long disappeared, would draw enough white Americans to the polls to make up for his low minority support.

– Amy Chozick, New York Times, November 9, 2016

 

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A poll of 2000 representative adult citizens has just revealed, according to surrounding publicity, the British public’s fifty favourite catchphrases. I was asked to comment on the survey and its findings and have expanded on those first thoughts here…

  1. Linguists describe the catchphrase as a ‘pre-formed lexical unit’, a component of the lexical repertoire shared by individual speakers and wider social groups. A catchphrase is ‘disseminated’ – spread – by repeated media usage and by word of mouth repetition.
  2. A catchphrase is typically a sequence of several words which works in memory and in conversation as a single unit. It triggers recognition because it is used repeatedly across society and this recognition in turn triggers the pleasure of sharing a cultural allusion with other people.
  3. Catchphrases, like proverbs, slogans or clichés (not to mention adages, maxims, platitudes, sayings and mottos), work because they encode ideas that are wise or funny or inspiring – sometimes all three at once. They also work well in interactions because they are information shortcuts or emotional prompts that can be slipped into conversations instead of having to explain interesting or complex ideas at length. In the digital and visual sphere hashtags and memes share many of the catchphrase’s attributes.
  4. A catchphrase such as ‘I don’t believe it!’ expresses a mix of exasperation, world-weary resignation and fatalistic humour that will be familiar from many people’s personal experience. ‘Don’t panic!’ is a piece of urgent advice that fits almost all of the traumas that life inflicts upon us. (The same words were memorably used in the cult TV series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’)
  5. The psychology of using a catchphrase is similar to that of telling a joke or repeating a famous quote: it not only conveys an opinion or information but forms a social bond of intimacy between the user and whoever they are talking to.
  6. Many catchphrases are associated with a particular performer, celebrity or public figure and so have a double impact in evoking that person’s trademark persona and attributes as well as the ideas they originally expressed. Catchphrases from much-loved shows lodge in the listener’s mind and stay with them as pleasurable memories to replay over and over again.
  7. Some catchphrases – ‘it is what it is’, for example, mimic a philosopher or sage expressing universal truths in simple language. The repetition used drives home the idea and its finality is effective in closing down a discussion – but at the same time this kind of catchphrase (like its abrupt synonym ‘end of’) can irritate the hearer if it is thought to be meaningless or stating the obvious or falsely affecting profundity. ‘Simples’, on the other hand is inoffensive and works especially well because it is itself as simple as it can be, as well as teasingly funny and associated with a lovable, if fictionalised and Russian-accented creature.
  8. Catchphrases derive their power from compressing quite complex ideas into short sequences and reinforce their power by employing unexpected juxtapositions and by using striking or clever combinations of sound (‘phonaesthetics’ or ‘sound symbolism’) that work just as in poetry or literature to arouse feelings in the listener. A very short expression such as ‘beermunch’ (the product name associated with the poll promotion in question) brings two already very familiar words together for the first time and combines two short, sharp contrasting sounds, sounds that for many will evoke the act of imbibing a stimulating liquid and the act of ‘chomping’ on delicious snack food.
  9. Catchphrases are a key component of popular culture as they connect the world of entertainment and consumption with the everyday concerns of real people – their feelings and experiences, their shared pleasures and their struggles and frustrations, and especially their triumphs over adversity.
  10. Some catchphrases (like buzzwords, linguists call these ‘vogue terms) quickly fall out of use or soon begin to sound dated and embarrassing. What is notable in the latest list, however, is how many of the expressions chosen are decades old and still in favour. It seems that certain phrases reverberate across generations, becoming part of the shared vocabulary of family members and neighbours (more technically ‘familect’).

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So here are…

 THE NATION’S TOP 50 CATCHPHRASES – as of September 2019 

  1. I don’t believe it! – Victor Meldrew
  2. Simples – Compare the Market
  3. Don’t panic! – Lance-Corporal Jones/Dad’s Army
  4. Lovely jubbly – Del Boy/Only Fools and Horses
  5. I had a cunning plan! – Tony Robinson / Blackadder
  6. To me, to you – Chuckle Brothers
  7. I’ll be back – Arnold Schwarzenegger / Terminator 2
  8. Nice to see you – to see you nice – Bruce Forsyth
  9. Only me! – Harry Enfield
  10. Rodney, you plonker! Del Boy/Only Fools and Horses
  11. Cheeky Nando’s
  12. How YOU doin’? Joey from FRIENDS
  13. Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once – ‘Allo ‘Allo
  14. Computer says no – Little Britain
  15. Garlic bread! – Peter Kay
  16. Should’ve gone to Specsavers – Specsavers
  17. D’oh! – Homer Simpson
  18. Am I bovvered? Catherine Tate
  19. The name’s Bond… James Bond – James Bond
  20. Beam me up, Scotty – Star Trek
  21. It is what it is – Love Island
  22. Aha! – I’m Alan Partridge
  23. What’s occurring? – Gavin and Stacey
  24. I’ve started so I’ll finish – Mastermind presenter
  25. It’s goodnight from me, and it’s goodnight from him – The Two Ronnies
  26. I’m free! – Mr Humphries/Are You Being Served
  27. Ooh Betty – Frank Spencer
  28. You dirty old man! – Steptoe and Son
  29. Lads lads lads – and everybody! – Ladbrokes
  30. Exterminate! – Dalek
  31. Live Long and Prosper – Star Trek
  32. We’re going out-out – Mickey Flanagan
  33. I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse – The Godfather
  34. Have a break, have a Kit Kat – Kit Kat
  35. Scorchio! – The Fast Show
  36. Because I’m worth it – L’Oreal
  37. Bazinga! – The Big Bang Theory
  38. It’s good, but it’s not right – Roy Walker/Catchphrase
  39. Who loves ya, baby! – Kojak
  40. I ain’t getting’ on no plane! – Mr T/The A Team
  41. I’m Lovin’ It – McDonald’s
  42. Shut that door – Larry Grayson
  43. Smokin’! – Jim Carrey – The Mask
  44. On that bombshell… – Jeremy Clarkson / Top Gear
  45. You are the weakest link – goodbye! – Anne Robinson / The Weakest Link
  46. You’ll like this – not a lot – Paul Daniels
  47. …Which was nice – The Fast Show
  48. No likey, no lighty! – Take Me Out
  49. Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Willis? – Diff’rent Strokes
  50. Giggity – Quagmire / Family Guy

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And here is how the poll results were relayed to a waiting public…

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7520653/I-dont-believe-Victor-Meldrews-catchphrase-voted-nations-favourite-time.html

 

 Grumpy Victor Meldrew's catchphrase topped the list

 

FAMILY LANGUAGE

“STOP PLOITERING AND GRAB THE MELLY!”

I’ve long been interested by the inventive, jokey, sometimes ludicrous expressions that arise within the family and only very occasionally emerge into the speech of the wider community. This variety is sometimes known as family slang or familect, otherwise, by the English Project at Winchester University, as kitchen-table lingo.

The following article gives some examples of these lighthearted, eccentric expressions…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2571693/Fancy-blish-Its-new-slang-nice-cuppa-New-list-gibberish-words-used-families-country-published.html

PR specialist Hamish Thompson has been working on his own glossary of family language and was kind enough to send me his introduction, acknowledgements and a selection of entries:

Most families have an invented vocabulary – the words that grow out of mishearing, misspelling, kids’ early attempts at talking or things that you might have seen that have become folkloric.

One of my kids coined the term ‘argubating’, which means arguing a point in a self-indulgent, unproductive way.  We also have ‘wookthack’, which for complicated reasons means ‘a rucksack from Derbyshire’.

And then there’s ‘scrapey’, which is a disappointing texture, named for the moment that my daughter, aged about 5, jumped the fence at the Postman Pat Village at Longleat to touch Mrs Goggins’ hair.

I asked people on Facebook last week whether they had any words that were part of their family vocabulary and I got some lovely responses.

I like the idea of a new dictionary, which I’m going to call ‘Famguage’ (thanks Alex Johnson).  I heard my son talking to his girlfriend about some of our words the other day. Clanguage is something that you’re eventually introduced to when you really enter a family.

I’d love to hear yours and add them to this list.  Tweet me at @HamishMThompson or email me at hthompson@houstonpr.co.uk and I’ll add them here.  Acknowledgements below.’

‪Alligator – a moving staircase.

‪Angipodes – crawly insect

‪Apogetic – opposite of energetic

‪Argubating – self indulgent row

‪Bantry – basement pantry

‪Bisgusting – poor personal habits

‪Bishee bishee Barnarbee – ladybird

Bleenger – someone who keeps losing something

‪Bonger – TV remote control)

‪Boop and bamwhiches – nutritious lunch

Cake Out – a stake out with bought cakes

‪Calm chowder – popular meal for kids in New England

‪Cat-flap – have a big panic or over fussy reaction to something

‪Chish and fips – Fish and Chips

Cluckston – generic term for chicken, hen, rooster, cockrell etc. “It’s some kind of cluckston.” See also, crucially, ‘Quackston’

‪Complify – opposite of simplify

‪Daddy’s soda – beer

‪Dinger- TV remote control

‪Embuggery – embroidery

‪Fi (pronounced like hi) plural of foxes

‪Forgettabox. Floatycoat. Windy man (fart)

‪Goggy for the favorite blankets the boys used when they were little.

‪Graunch – the scraping of furniture on a wooden floor when moving it improperly.

Gruncle and Graunt – great uncle and aunt

‪Gruntled – happy

Hairochopter – helicopter

‪Hangry – annoyed because of lack of food.

‪’Have you forgotten how to English?’

Iforloafer – falling over

In a little minute – buying a bit more time before bed

‪Industriocity – busy / va va voom “hoy lad, it’s time you showed a bit of industriocity”

‪Marshmellons – soft sweet

‪Merangutans – Meringues

‪Miseratating – so constantly miserable you are irritating

Nicknames – Lewie, Boogle, Doodie, Moomin

Nommelin – omelette

‪Nonk – milk

‪On the roof – imminent danger

Ploitering about – piddling about and loitering

‪Pokey pola – Coca-cola

Quackston – a duck (see also ‘cluckston’)

Scrapey – unpleasant texture (after jumping the fence at the Longleat Postman Pat Village to touch Mrs Goggins’ hair)

‪Sidey the table – sit around the table for dinner

Sluggerbaths – kids that dawdle in the bath until the water gets cold

‪Smaggy – horrible

Spudy – a spare bedroom that doubles as a study

‪Stinging lentils – weeds to be avoided

‪Swimpamool – the place you go for a swim in the summer

Tahairnairhair – proximity of a friend called Tahir

‪The Feli – two Felixes – my son and his best friend

‪The Ho Ho Hos – the seven dwarves

‪Till donk – the thing supermarkets use to separate your shopping from another customer on the conveyor at the register.

Tootles – toilets

Tryer trick – trousers falling down to a point that makes walking difficult

‪Veggybubbles – veg

Voulez-vous –  vol au vent.

Wice – wood lice

‪Wish dosher – a machine for cleaning crockery

Wookthack – rucksack from Derbyshire

“Yes then!” – exclamation when receiving good news or when a cunning plan is formed

‪Yippers – indoor footwear

With thanks (so far) to: Kellie Evans, Nicola Texeira, Tamzin Benjamin, Shaun Andrews, David Johnson, Clare Corbet, Vanessa Potts, Michael Cullen, Nick Higham, Michael Moran, Rene Wright, Lynne Clark, Cam Ross, Steve Dring, Alex Johnson, Dawn Murray, Chris Winstanley, Helen Hobbs, Jean Harbilas, Tracey Holmes-Reynolds, Elizabeth Varley, Jenny Hodge, Caroline Lavelle, Andy Ravenscroft, Vivien Patterson, Sharon Rasker, Leroy Bingham, Alex Thomson, Donal McCabe, Duncan Wisbey, Gina Jones, Jim Boulden, Joanna Oliver, Peppi Wilson, Mark Webb, Susanna Voyle, MoiOfRa, Jane Symons, Tyler Massie, Rebecca McKie, Dr Decadence Marple.

More from 2013 in the Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2013/jul/19/mind-your-language-family-slang

…and January 2018, an excellent article that includes personal reflections by Caroline Baum also in the Guardian newspaper…

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/03/shnibble-gunzle-dolltalk-share-your-familys-invented-words

In August 2020 the BBC appealed for examples of family-only expressions. They received a good response on Twitter…

@BBCRadio4
Is there a word, or phrase, that only you or your family use?

Bruce Hiscock
@BruceHiscock

Replying to

‘Boys names’ – whenever one of us can’t be bothered to answer. Our youngest son c 4 and a half on returning from his first day at school was asked whether he had a nice day. He said ‘yes’ . Did you make some friends ‘yes’ . What are their names? Answer ‘boys names’!

Sarah Hagger-Holt
@SarahHaggerHolt

Replying to

Coolth (opposite of warmth)

Lord Tim Moon of Glencoe
@TimMoonMusic

Replying to

More betterer.

Sue Goldman
@SueGoldman1

Replying to

Cowlets = calves
Alastair Schwarz
@riot_salad

Replying to

‘bangers’ – not fit for purpose

Reynold Forman, M.Ed.
@ReynoldLeTreaux

Replying to

Dawn squirt, bagel peel
Jackie Smith
@alassmith

Replying to

Eggy-weggy

Kellie Fisher
@Coastineer
Replying to

We used to live in Australia and were fascinated by the way ‘o’ gets added to the end of words. As a result we invented the term ‘umbo’ for umbrella. Even though it’s made up and not Australian at all we still use it!

Alex.Robinson
@_Star_Tron
Replying to

GIF
alan hendrix
@Siralanhe

Replying to

shambolic

boardman
@hawkstonpark

Replying to

Nor
It’s interesting that some of these words are actually in widespread colloquial usage, though those donating them think that they, their family members or friends invented them. Four years on and the topic was attracting renewed interest, from my friend Professor Richard Norquist for one…