Homemade Words

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.

9 thoughts on “Homemade Words

  1. I love “take the cats to Turkey!” I’m already coming up with situations that would warrant using it. Urban Dictionary, here we come!

    “Hangry” is a term I thought my boyfriend and I had come up with a couple years back, meaning: “to be so hungry that one becomes angry.” About two months ago I turned my television on and for some reason Dr. Oz was on. As I maniacally dug through my bed for the remote to change the channel, Dr. Oz started saying “hangry” and the word was thrown up on the set screen. Even crazier, he was using it in the same context we’d been using. I got so excited because HOLY SHIT Dr. Oz just said a word I made up. When I looked it up on Urban Dictionary, I was crushed to find out that I hadn’t invented the word; some asshole named “Ants” put it in the UD in 2003! Thus, we revealed ourselves to be frauds. It was a somber day, indeed.

    Though this one is basically ripped straight from the Ozzy Osbourne song, people seem to get a kick out of it when I’m recounting a story and I use it: “off the rails crazy train.” This is an adjective used to describe someone who is a step above crazy. I think it gets the point across fairly well. I’m not sure where I picked it up in this particular usage, but I probably can’t claim it as my own.

    I’m realizing how unoriginal I am as I write this! Alas!

    1. Hangry is awesome. I don’t care if Ants is the original inventor; you should get co-credit.

      You’ve made me think about another set of homemade words that are pilfered from popular culture. Hmm. I can see a second blog coming. But it’ll have to wait cuz I’m actually pretty hangry right now myself.

      1. Everyone has a line from a song that they shamelessly use. I use the phrase “like god was going to catch her by the ponytail” whenever a friend of mine starts walking fast or getting nervous. It’s kind of a threatening phrase in our use; from a Mountain Goats song.

        And I feel for you on hangry. I hadn’t heard it before.

  2. My family uses quite a few made-up words, but the one that is my favorite is creet. It’s my favorite because I did not know it was not a real word until my 8th grade teacher pointed it out after I used it in a poem. My family uses “creet” to describe when a dog cowers with its tail between its legs. However, I also use it to describe a person who cowers in a similar way. People who creet are creeters. For example, if someone talks really quietly while staring at his/her feet, s/he would be a creeter. Since I got caught using it in an English class, it became sort of a joke among my friends, but now they all use creet as if it is a real word all the time.

    The other one is a bit meaner. When we were growing up, if we ate a lot of food, my mom would say, “Way to go Mary Gardner.” So we all thought that Mary Gardner was interchangeable with fatty. One day, we were at church and my mom said “Oh my gosh, that’s Mary Gardner!” We thought she was calling this lady fat, but then we learned that Mary Gardner was a real person that my mom and her siblings all knew growing up and she was morbidly obese, so that’s where that one came from.It doesn’t make us look good.

    My friends and I use two more phrases. One is “fatty in the wild” which we use to refer to ourselves when we are gorging on food. For example, “I went to Lumberyard and ordered cheese fries and mac and cheese balls. It’s a fatty in the wild day.” It originated because we once all started a healthy eating kick, but the day beforehand we ordered all of our favorite fattiest foods and had an eating party, which we called a fatty in the wild party. The other one is a slouch monster. A slouch monster is someone who stays in their pajamas watching netflix all day, or eats a lot of candy while watching movies all day. It generally involves eating, comfy clothes, and tv/movie marathoning.

    I only meant to share creet, but I guess I have quite a few.

  3. I think you’d enjoy Stephen King’s “Lisey’s Story,” because it deals with this weird relationship-specific language stuff throughout the book. Centers on a widow who’s late husband was an author. Excerpt —

    “She had nodded seriously to him. “Everything the same.”

    “I don’t understand what you mean by that.”

    Of course he didn’t. It had been a part of her marriage’s inner language. How many times had Scott come breezing in, calling “Hey, Lisey, I’m home — everything the same?” Meaning is everything all right, is everything cool. But like most phrases of power (Scott had explained this once to her, but Lisey had already known it), it had an inside meaning

    Personally, I have a couple but my favorite is one created by me and my freshman year roommate. To get up to our campus we had to drive up an insanely curvy hill. Once when she was driving particularly fast around said curve, our friend in the backseat asked if she shouldn’t slow down to the recommended fifteen MPH. I laughed and said in a Boston accent, “Naw, you can take it at forty.” Now “Naw, you can take it at forty” has been incorporated into our language to apply to anything that is slightly dangerous but that you should do anyway. Example — “I don’t really think I can handle skydiving.” “Naw, you can take it at forty.”

    There’s probably more but that’s still my favorite.

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