Family shorthand, and George Forman (huh?)

Wondering why there’s a photo of George Foreman? I promise, it’ll be clear if you keep reading. But this post really isn’t about Mr. Foreman.

I read something by Real Delia the other day, and I’m still mulling it over. Her post, The Private Language of Marriage, is about the shorthand catch-phrases that couples use to communicate. Her thinking is that these little verbal codes are part of what makes a couple into a team.

I agree, but I don’t think this phenomenon is limited to couples. I think these silly phrases can remind us of previous experiences. They help form bonds between people. It could be a group of college friends, a work group, or even a family. In fact, right off the top of my head I can immediately think of several sayings that have lived on for decades in my family. These sayings keep us grounded in the ties that bind us to our families and even to previous generations.

Just thinking about it makes me smile. 😀

In one example, an ancestor of mine was getting along in years and, poor thing, had lost some of her hearing. She answered an innocuous question with a non-sequitor; she said grah tuch tuganeh, which is my best approximation of “radishes, I’m carrying” in Yiddish. Why did she answer this? We don’t know. Apparently she misheard the question and thought that an answer about radishes would be helpful. To this day, in my family whenever something is said out of context someone will whisper grah tuch tuganeh. And we all crack up.

Another often-told story in my family is about my great-uncle Murray. According to all accounts, Murray’s mother (my great-grandmother) was a terrific cook. One year, as the family sat down to eat the famous latkes (potato pancakes) that great-grandma traditionally made for the holiday of Hanukkah, Murray had the first bite. He made a face and said, “Ma, what did you do? These latkes are terrible.” The family finished dinner, but no one touched the latkes after Murray’s outburst. Later that night, Murray was found in the kitchen eating all the latkes! He was delighted that he had come up with a way to save all the latkes for himself.

I suppose you can guess what “pulling an uncle Murray” means to us.

But if you’re not in my family, you would not understand these phrases. And that’s the point. Simply by virtue of the fact that the phrases evoke a shared experience (in the case of the stories above, we weren’t there for the original experience, but we’ve shared the experience of hearing the stories), they help to bind us together.

Even our nicknames are a bonding force. Pumpkin got his name because when he was a baby, he was extremely jaundiced. The buildup of bilirubin caused his skin to look sort of orange, like a pumpkin. I’ve been calling him Pumpkin ever since. Though I do my best not to call him Pumpkin in front of his friends. Parents can be so embarrassing at his age.

Monkey’s name came about because she was just always climbing on everything. One day she said to me, “I’m like a Monkey, Mommy,” and that immediately became her nickname.

And finally, here’s the part about George Foreman:

Both my kids together are called George. That’s right, George. You see, long ago we heard a story on the news about George Foreman. Mr. Foreman has 5 sons, all named George:  George Forman, Jr., George III, IV, etc. Even some of the girls are named George. The kids (my kids, I mean) thought that it would be confusing if they had the same name, because they would never know to which kid you were talking. Of course, if for some reason you wanted all the kids you could simply call for “George” and they would all come! From that day forward, George means both of my kids, as in, “George, it’s time for dinner” or, “George, we’re leaving in 5 minutes.”

But no one else uses these nicknames. And that’s the point. Simply by virtue of the fact that the nicknames evoke a shared experience or memory, they help to bind us together.

Just for the record, I also call my kids sweetie, honey, darling, and various other endearments. That’s just part of being a child in my family. 🙂

What about your family stories and catch-phrases? Please share in the comments. I’d love to hear them.

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5 Responses to Family shorthand, and George Forman (huh?)

  1. Pingback: Welcome Non-Consumer Advocate Readers « 1 Sentence Diary

  2. Laura says:

    Yes, we have family catchphrases too. They’re too complicated to explain, so I won’t. I like your family’s use of “George” as a plural form.

    We call our George Foreman grill “The Forminator” for who knows what reason, and we have also created a verb, to forminate, when we are going to cook using the grill. I love the expressions on people’s faces when we forget and use those terms in front of them (expressions like “what planet did these people come from?).

  3. WilliamB says:

    Some of these code phrases are great for conveying a complicated idea in just a few words. The most used one in my family is “I can’t wear two ties at once!” This is from an old joke. A woman gives her son two ties for his birthday. Pleased with the gift and wanting to please her, he is careful to wear one the next time he sees her. The first thing out of her mouth when she sees him wearing the tie is “Didn’t you like the other tie?!”

    The joke is so good at conveying an idea that I’ve never even tried to formulate the problem into more formal language.

    • Oh my gosh, WilliamB, that’s a great joke. And all too true. This actually happened to me a couple of years ago:

      I was at a lovely holiday dinner hosted by dear friends. The host’s mother made two cakes for dessert. (You can see where this is going…). When it came time for dessert, both cakes were served. The host took a bite of one cake and said, “Mom, this cake is delicious.” Without missing a beat, the woman answered, “What? You don’t like the other one?”

      I couldn’t stop myself from snickering. The sad part is, she wasn’t kidding.

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