In 2017, I asked people on Twitter what it’s called when a family has words only they understand, and some people said it’s called family slang or kitchen table lingo, and a couple of people said it’s called a “familect” or “familiolect.”
If a dialect is the language of people in a certain region or group, and an idiolect is one person’s way of speaking, then a familiolect is one family’s way of speaking. People shared their funny stories, for example, Caroline’s father calls the microwave “Chernobyl” and Norma’s family calls pants “ralls” because they are the bottom part of overalls.
A familect is one family’s way of speaking.
Here’s an example from my family: We call ficus trees Normans, and I bet nobody else does that.
When my husband and I were students, we had only one car, so I rode my bike a lot. Well, one day, I was out on my bike and I decided to buy my husband a small potted ficus tree. I put it in my backpack, but it was so big the backpack wouldn’t close, and then it started to rain, so by the time I got home, the tree and I were both a muddy mess. The night before, we had watched a movie called “City Slickers” in which Billy Crystal’s character delivers a calf named Norman in a muddy field or barn in a rainstorm, so when I pulled the muddy ficus tree out of my backpack and presented it to Pat, he said, “It’s Norman!” Ever since, when we see a ficus tree, we call it Norman.
When we see a ficus tree, we call it Norman.
I’d love to hear and share the stories behind your family’s kitchen table lingo. Share a story about a word you use in just your family by leaving me a voicemail at (833) 214-GIRL.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “ opens in a new windowGrammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.