Our Family Language

Every family has their own language.  It’s made up of words or phrases that no one else would understand. Every person contributes. Every person speaks it.

The first one that Olivia created was when she was two and a half. We took off her socks after a long day of toddling and she stared down at the tiny imprint it left on her leg.  Her eyes turned to me and I was informed that…

I got sock levers.

Sock levers?

Sock levers.

familyThat worked. I had always struggled with the right word for it.  When I was younger, I heard someone refer to them as “Mexican Folds”. I went with that on the rare occasions when they came up, but it always seemed like a weird name. I struggled for decades with that. Yet, my daughter nailed it when she was still watching Yo Gabba Gabba. Sock Levers were born and, to this day, we still call them that.

The beautiful thing about sock levers is that it fills the need for a name that was missing.  I’m sure you have your own family word for those clothing impressions on skin. Maybe folds or sleep lines or something. Regardless, it was a word that needed to be created and we created it.

Here’s one that you might not have a name for.  It works for any parent trying to gage the amount of time left in a kid’s TV program before sending them off to bed.  It tumbled from my mouth out of pure necessity.

I was pestering Olivia to finish her sitcom-style show and go to bed.  She had just reached the final moments where they go to commercial, come back for a one minute closing bit, and then send you to the credits.  Almost every show features it and it never had a name…until I accidentally gave it one.

Come on, Olivia. Bed. Another commercial? How much of this show is left?

No, Daddy.  It’s the end. All that’s left is, uh…

Oh. The little minute?

Yeah. The little minute.

It doesn’t even make sense.  The little minute? Even crazier, is that it’s beyond sock levers in terms of how often we use it. If I had to guess, someone says “little minute” in this house at least once every other day.  Before it existed, we must have talked so much less.

Some words have to be wedged in.  They require repetition and persistence.  I use the word “brawsh” for example. It’s my shortened term for telling my daughter to brush her teeth and wash up for bed.  It saves me a precious second in my life and she hates it.  I know because she told me.

Stop saying “brawsh”. I hate it.

Well, then you’re in for some bad bedtimes because it’s my thing now.  Go brawsh.

Family language comes from anywhere. Much of it is inspired by TV and movies.  Our influences range fom Liv and Maddie’s “Bam! What?!” to the fact that no one can say the word “understand” without my wife and I launching into the opening of this dramatic scene from Mommy Dearest, a film that neither of us like all that much:

Of course, we all use daily references of the Wiggles, Arrested Development, Wayne’s World, Sesame Street, and many others too.  Perhaps your family has lines from Star Trek, Monty Python, or Dora the Explorer. No matter the title, genre, or year, we all borrow from entertainment. Everything is a remix.

As I mentioned earlier, every member of the family contributes to this group speak.  Every member. I know the question some people may have for me already.

But James, what about your son?  He’s non-verbal. How can he be a part of this?

He’s not just a part of this, Lucas has been the most important part of this. He expanded our family phrase book beyond words.  He’s broken that verbal barrier and added a new level to it all.

Lucas has certain mannerisms we use to communicate.  If he wants something, he’ll tap his chest. For eating, we’ll mime bringing food to our mouths.  For “more“, he knocks his two fists into each other.  That one became a big favorite.

At some point, Olivia discovered that she could save her breath when asking for another bowl of pasta or juice box.  Rather than use the words we spent years teaching her, one day, she ran up to me and began knocking her fists together.

What are you doing?

More. This means more. I want more.

Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted more?

Did you understand what I wanted?


So what’s the problem?

As she skipped away with her curly hair bouncing on her head, I had to fight the urge not to huck pasta at her. She still does “more” to this day…

…much the same way I mime a drinking cup when offering a guest to our home some water or coffee.  No one has called me out on it, yet, but I’m keenly aware that I do it.

These words are ours.  We didn’t intend for them to become part of our vernacular, but they did. Much the way “Bae” and “YOLO” snuck their way into common speech, “cloffice” and “grosso” found their way into ours. We all have shared words with the people we love. It’s a big part of what makes us a family and a big part of what makes up every family.