Familyisms – The Family Slang

You realize you're part of the family when you understand the inside jokes.


Weekends And Words


Last Friday my hubby and I were trying to decide on what to do for the weekend. After he made a suggestion we could go shopping my response was, “That’s an idea.”  He then proceeded to lift an eyebrow.  I suspect his grand gesture was meant as a prompt. And although I might have placated him with a, “Yes, dear, that’s a great idea!” or perhaps told him, “I’d sooner go out and scoop poop in the backyard!” I didn’t do either. You see, as it stood, he’d been given all the information required.  His suggestion was “an idea” and according to my family’s rules that was enough.  The way I saw it, I’d blessed him with some of my family’s favorite wisdom—something I call a familyism.


Is It An Idea Or Isn’t It?



That's an idea.

How do you say you’re uninterested?

In my family, “That’s an idea,” was considered an appropriate reply to any suggestion.  It was meant as a neutral offering, if you will, and was therefore a way to acknowledge credit for the idea without mocking it. Now, truth be told, we all knew that whenever you got a “That’s an idea,” reply to a suggestion, whoever said it was dismissing any chance they would be partaking in the activity. It was our polite way of declining without actually saying no.  It worked well because you usually got your message across without anyone feeling bad.


Family Code


Familyisms are fun—we all have them. They’re a kind of shorthand way of saying something that come loaded with family history. They are offered at particular times and places and may not make much sense to outsiders even with an explanation. In fact, the explanation often seems to make them seem even stranger—sort of like a code.


Have You Seen…


It's always in the last place you look.

I’ve searched high and low. Will somebody help me look, please?

One of the favorites in my family was, “It’s always in the last place you look.” This is the phrase we would offer when a family member was frustrated because they’d already spent a good deal of time looking for a particular something without any luck. Of course, you want to offer help, but only to a point—meaning not so much you actually intend to get out your chair.  No, it’s better just to say, “It’s always in the last place you look.”  That way you acknowledge their plight, plus you gain the added satisfaction of proving yourself right the minute they locate the missing object. Very helpful, right?


Eat Your Potatoes


That'll put some hair on your chest.

Aw, do I have to eat this crust?

Another one I grew up with was “That’ll put some hair on your chest.” This is a familyism that my dad would often toss out when I was faced with doing something that I didn’t really want to do (like eat the crust off my toast or the rest of my spuds). Of course, this was not the least bit encouraging to me since I was (1) a girl and (2) the last thing I wanted was hair on my chest! But again, it was our family slang for, “Suck it up, quit whining and do it. You’ll be a stronger person for it.” And in a sense, I suppose it was useful as I usually complied. I’m just glad it didn’t work as advertised.


Seal The Deal


When I was about four or five years old there was a commercial on TV with a matador and a bull. When my parents would be discussing something and came to an agreement one would say, “Right, matador?” and the other would respond with “Right, bull!” This was their silly familyism for sealing a deal. I think every time they used that phrase I would pipe in with, “What am I?  What am I?” for I wanted to be part of the decision. The response was always “You’re full of beans.” Now, I can’t say why, but hubby says my folks were definitely onto to something.



I’m Not Just Stuffed


Stop!  I'm stuffed already.

I’ve reached a genteel sufficiency.

My grandfather would always end a family meal that he thought was very good with the phrase “I’ve reached a genteel sufficiency; anything else would be superfluous.” That phrase was such a mouthful I can see why he never wanted more food. There was often great debate though on how to pronounce the word superfluous—one camp went with super-fluous, the other camp went with su-perfluous. I suppose it didn’t matter who was right—it was just a way to finish a meal with an acknowledgement of being satisfied.


I’m Not Making This Up


I know familyisms aren’t unique to my family because my hubby’s family has them, too. The first one he used on me was after he’d cooked meal and we started eating. I took a bite and said, “Whoa, this is hot!”  With nary a thought he piped back, “You can’t cook it cold.” I admit that I stared at him for a few seconds, wondering whether I should ball up my napkin and throw it at him. Lucky for him, I restrained myself. Ultimately, I came to realize it was a familyism from his side of the family for “Of course, it’s hot, stupid.  I just brought it from the stove.  Blow on it!”  However, it wasn’t until some time later that full comprehension set in. We were visiting his mom and someone made the comment the dinner was hot. She immediately replied “You can’t cook it cold”.


Lots Of Them

Faster than a herd of turtles.

Exactly how fast does a herd go?

Hubby’s got a couple other goodies. One is, “My get up and go and got up and went.”  Translation: I’m tired and really don’t feel like doing anything. Another is, “You get no bread with only one meat ball.  Translation: “Don’t fill up on bread and spoil the rest of your dinner.”  Finally, “They’re moving faster than a herd of turtles.” Hubby tells me his mother used this one quite often while driving.  Translation: “They’re moving slower than molasses in January.” Hey, was that somebody’s familyism, too?


The Tradition Lives On


One thing I really like about familyisms is how they keep my connection alive with the past. When a familyism rolls off the tongue, it takes me back to shared moments together. And now that much of my family is no longer around or unable to participate in family functions, these sayings remind me of celebrating a shared life by bringing back a lot of great memories. Right matador? Right Bull! Yeah, I know… I’m full of beans.


If you enjoyed this post you may also want to read Playing By The Rules Of The Kitchen

2 Responses to Familyisms – The Family Slang

  • Connie Nichols says:

    The first part of your grandfather’s end of meal announcement was “I’m completely surrensified.” (then followed– “I’ve had genteel sufficiency and any more would be superFLUous”)

    John and I say this often and laugh each time! I remember the first time I had dinner with Wayne and Madeline he recited this litany, and I had to stifle a giggle!

    One of our familisms is “Not Bad” which is uttered at the end of a good meal, or after sampling a new recipe. ‘Not Bad’ is a high compliment around here!

  • Carol says:

    YES! that is how it went. I knew it was off a little. Thanks for putting it right. He always said it so seriously too.


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