FamilyTalk

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"Explaining it only ensures that it won't seem all that funny or insightful to anyone else."

Every family develops a unique dialect comprised of words twisted into special-purpose shapes. Some fondly recall what originated as a malapropism, like when my Dwalink Dwaughta Heidi called a maze puzzle an "amaze." Forever after, in our family, mazes became amazes. Frustrated with a boring discussion, she proclaimed that she thought we had "disgusted" enough. We now exclusively engage in disgustions, a useful cautionary reminder. It seems that as kids learn the language, they help twist it into a more meaningful form, with the folks joining in. The bedtime announcement that "it's time to go potty and brush your teeth" morphed into "time to go potty and tickle your teeth", then finally into the short form "time to pot and tick".

Many FamilyTalk terms amount to verbal shorthand, sometimes even code.
They can convey deep history and even deeper respect, and sometimes extend a deprecating joke into the ages. We mostly hold these terms like we might maintain state secrets, sharing them freely within the family but only inadvertently anywhere beyond that. I am exhibiting a rather extreme form of Talking About What I'm Not Supposed To Talk About by even mentioning their existence.

The eight year old Grand Other, being eight years old, revels in her ability to shock the creaky old grandparents. She's likely to shout out "butt" or "poop" without provocation. When I asked her whether she was "buckled in", by which I meant to learn if she had successfully fastened her seatbelt, she echoed back that she was not quite yet "butt-gold" in. Of course the term took and for the rest of the weekend, I'd ask if she was "butt-gold" yet, and she would respond just as if I'd said "buckled." I can't know whether this new term will join the company of the permanent FamilyTalk dialect, for only time can possibly tell. The freshest terms get over-used, but only a small handful ever really stick into the permanent lexicon.

New terms get minted almost daily when The Muse and I are around the grandkids. Between just the two of us, new additions only rarely emerge. They mostly appear when we're out traveling in the world, where our existing perspectives get challenged by fresh experience. When she went lame from walking around Rome, I stumbled upon the term "cobblefoot" to describe her condition.

We adopt some terms to encourage us to avoid resorting to more vulgar ones. As consultants, we never accept the description of a team as "dysfunctional," but echo back the term "differently functioning." Though this little twist might seem an example of political correctness, it serves to help remind us (and inform the reporter) that we are not there to reform anyone and that we, ourselves, do not stand meta to any practice. What we might characterize as broken and in desperate need of reformation might instead be an example from which we might learn something useful. Likewise, people, in our dialect, never resist change, for one person's apparent resistance is another's perfectly reasonable attempt to cope.

Language, some say, creates the world we inhabit, and I can see no good reason why anyone, any family, any organization, should accept the shrink-wrapped language available to anyone else. Each person, each family, every organization inhabits a unique space only inadequately described or manifested by the standard tongue. We need to remember the odd, informative misuses and the once-curious perspectives that better describe our existence. The real history of any family should properly only prove understandable to members of that family and seem rather meaningless to anyone else, if only because you really had to be there at each term's inception to really understand the joke. Explaining it only ensures that it won't seem all that funny or insightful to anyone else.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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