People in relationships–romantic or platonic–often have their own vocabulary, personalized neologisms that develop out of shared experiences and conversations. Urban dictionary even has a term for this: “homemade words.”
Let me give you a few examples.
1) When I was in college, my friend Lisa (who is exactly the same height as me: five feet and three-quarters of an inch) began dating a much taller man. (That means he was probably six feet tall.) She was nervous about their impending first kiss and the awkwardness that seemed inevitable due to the discrepancies in their heights. She was convinced that a bad first kiss would literally be the “kiss of death” for their relationship, that the memory of it would forever linger in the backs of their minds as evidence that they were simply not meant to be. (We were, like, 24 or something.)
I told her to “stand on a curb.” I didn’t mean it to sound offhand: it simply seemed like the easiest, most practical solution, far better than being picked up and lifted to lip level while your legs dangle helplessly (as I know from experience). I doubt that Lisa took my advice, and the man has long since gone the way of old lovers, but the sentence stuck and has come to mean something more for us. I’m not sure I can exactly translate, but I would say that it roughly means: “You are worrying too much about something that you will easily conquer and that isn’t a big deal in the first place. You’ll be fine.” Variations exist. I once declared, “I am standing on a curb,” which in my mind was roughly equivalent to belting out the lyrics to “I Am Woman” or “I Will Survive.” Similarly, when one of us asserts absolute confidence about our ability to overcome some obstacle or accomplish some goal, the other will often, in a show of solidarity, respond, “That’s right. Stand on a curb, baby.”
2) Before I got my job here at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, I considered applying for a teaching position in Turkey. Part of me loved the idea of taking off for a foreign country, all devil-may-care and adventurous. Another part worried about practicalities, like not knowing the language or the country’s rules of social etiquette. I was convinced that I would commit some huge faux pas that would forever end diplomatic relationships between America and Turkey (like in that episode of The Simpsons, “Bart vs. Australia“). I worried about being lonely. Mostly, I agonized about how I would transport my two cats there. What sort of trauma would they have to endure during the move? It was unbearable to cause them any stress or suffering. I confided about the situation to my friend Ray, but he was convinced that the cats would be just fine. “Just take the cats to Turkey,” he declared. We immediately decided that “Take the cats to Turkey” should mean something more, but we never did agree on what it should mean. I thought it should be a carpe diem sort of inspirational mantra, as in
“I am thinking about writing a novel/climbing Mt. Everest/going back to school/backpacking the Appalachian Trail, but I’m scared.”
“Oh, just do it. Take the cats to Turkey.”
Ray thought the opposite. He thought the sentence sounded more scolding, barbed–something you would say to someone who had just royally screwed the pooch.
“Thanks to Tom’s invention of New Coke, the company has lost 23 billion trillion dollars.”
“You really took the cats to Turkey on that one, Tom.”
In subsequent conversations, we both used the sentence as we saw fit.
3) The first time I flew on a plane after 9/11, it was to visit a boyfriend’s parents for Thanksgiving in 2004. I couldn’t believe all the changes that had taken place with airport security (What? I have to take my shoes off?). As we finally settled on the plane, I said, “I can’t believe how much harder it is to fly since 9/11. I guess I haven’t flown since then.” He said, “Really? God, I’ve flown like ten times since 9/11.” He didn’t AT ALL mean to, but he sounded like a pretentious jerk announcing what a jet-setter he was, and he knew it the minute the words came out of his mouth. From then on, we used that sentence to acknowledge anything we said that might sound slightly snobby. (It sounds best if you say it with an accent resembling the maharajah’s in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)
“You know, I’ve never seen Jack Johnson in concert.”
“Really? I’ve seen him a bunch.”
“I’ve seen Jack Johnson like ten times since 9/11.”
The sentence could also be used to acknowledge one’s own smuggery:
“The only novel I’ve read by Faulkner is The Sound and the Fury.”
“God, you’re really missing out on his best stuff. I mean, I’ve read like ten Faulkner novels since 9/11.“
4) This last one is a bit–ahem–sexier, so I’ll change the names to protect the innocent. One day, a girl–oh, let’s call her Kathryn–and her boyfriend, Rob, had enjoyed a particularly lovely roll in the hay one late afternoon. Rob suggested they follow this up with a nice dinner and a couple of beers. Kathryn wanted to stay home, suggesting a home-cooked meal followed by another roll in the hay. Rob (who suddenly turned into Chef from South Park) said something like, “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll hit you up with more sweet loving later tonight.” Kathryn was not convinced, but Rob promised. They were home by 8, full of porter and wings, and by 8:30 Rob’s eyelids started to look awful heavy. Kathryn could not resist an “I told you so” moment and for a good fifteen minutes entertained herself immensely by saying things like, “Mama, I’m gonna give it to you so good–” and then pretending to fall asleep mid-sentence. She thought this was hilarious. Rob accepted the teasing graciously and even offered up his own version: “Baby, I’m gonna lay some pipe . . . (snore).” That’s the one that stuck: “I’m gonna lay some pipe.” We–I mean Kathryn and Rob–use the phrase now to mean something roughly like, “I realize that I overconfidently promised something that I have since failed to deliver on. Sorry–I took the cats to Turkey on that one.”
My dream, of course, is that one of my homemade words will take on a life of its own and that someday I’ll be watching the Academy Awards and DiCaprio will win his first Oscar and say, shaking his statuette,”We did it, Marty! We finally stood on a curb!” Or during an interview Christopher Nolan will admit that he really “laid some pipe” when he made The Dark Knight Rises.
Care to share any of your relationship neologisms? Perhaps together we can make it into urban dictionary.