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From 'Fubby' To 'Cattywampus,' How Words Span Generations In Families

Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett are pictured in this undated photo.
Courtesy of "A Way With Words"
Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett are pictured in this undated photo.
From 'Fubby' To 'Cattywampus,' How Words Span Generations In Families
From 'Fubby' To 'Cattywampus,' How Words Span Generations In Families GUESTS: Martha Barnette, co-host, "A Way With Words" Grant Barrett, co-host, "A Way With Words"

As this year's college freshmen leave their family nest to start school a few of them may have a surprise waiting for them. They may discover that the words their families use for messy rooms or even body parts are not exactly universal. Some of these family words reflect regional differences some ethnic but they all have a story to tell. And who better to explain the secret language of families than the hosts of a way with words. Martha Barnett and Grant Barrett and Martha and Grant welcome to the show. Hey thanks. You know Martha during your years on a way with words do you often hear people share these family words. Oh gosh yes that's one of our favorite aspects of the show a lot of times people will grow up using a particular dialect and then move across the country and they'll use a word from their dialect and they'll say people looked at me like I had two heads when I used the word tome or whatever but the other category of words like that is family words you know somebody grows up just using this or that term and they think everybody uses it and it turns out that they don't. Can you give us an example. Well for the longest time I thought a bellybuttons speaking of body parts we call those Ding Dongs in my family because it's like a doorbell. And you know I mean I was you know I wasn't that old when I learned that not everybody called them things. You have another one. Tell us about Fabi bee. Oh well that's that's a whole sub genre of that particular category. The the times when kids mispronounce something and you just run with it. In our case we had a little dog when I was very small named traveler named after Robert E. Lee's horse. Actually it was somebody else's dog and they gave it to us. And so his name was traveler. But my younger brother Jim couldn't pronounce traveler and traveler came out as. But don't like a lot of of misapprehensions of things like that we had to call a few years ago from a parent of a child who was really concerned they were on a long motor trip across the country and they kept looking at motels in motels were all full. And this kid misunderstood his parents looking for a hotel with bacon seed and all the signs you know they were reading the signs and they thought and the kid that they were saying no bacon seed but it was no vacancy and that probably a bad word. Exactly. Grant do you have examples always just go on Twitter this past week from a woman in Wisconsin who said that her son calls suitcases soup cases which I love. And my son had a million eyes. My son is growing up with me on the show but the one that we still use in our house is lemonade for lemonade. And there was a adorable moment where a little friend of his said Guthrie it's not lemonade it's lemonade. I've found that a lot of the family words that are actually sort of like euphemisms for body parts of bodily functions. That's true. And do you hear a lot of that as well. We use a lot of them of course we can't really talk about because some of it is still a little too much on icky side but certainly things like Gobion 1 and 2. There's a lot of different onomatopoeic words for the sounds that are made when we do the bodily functions. You can imagine what those are. And there's a lot of words for the things that we find embarrassing about ourselves that maybe other people don't. Different names for ACMI or booboos or scars or that sort of thing so that your mother or your father will put a cute name on a thing that's bothering you and it takes the sting out both literally and psychologically. Now we noticed a trend when we posted on the PBS Facebook page to solicit words that words that we think may be unique to our families actually have a wider scope. Absolutely. Grant like dippie eggs dippie eggs Yeah this is these are eggs sunny side up that you can dip your toaster your biscuit in and it's used throughout Pennsylvania parts of upstate New York into Ohio and Indiana and even parts of Canada. Another theme that we noticed in the solicitations that we got we noticed that families who may not be fluent in the first language of some of their family members use words from those languages and to describe certain things. And we found two words for I discharge. One is Spanish. The other one is Tagalog. And they're like Gunya and muita. Are you familiar with us. GONYEA Is the standard term for the mucus that you'd get at night and then mute you. I don't know but I did look it up when I saw that on the discussion and it seems to derive from the Spanish word for Moët as an emote in your eyes meaning a speck in your eye which makes perfect sense because the Spanish were in the Philippines for a very long time and in English how many did we uncover of this. Every time we talk about the words for the sleep in your eye we get new ones but I think we're up to like 15 different ones that listeners have reported to us. Duck butter we call it Sleepy. When I was growing up we call it sleep. There's also sleep sugar and potatoes and Jasmine sleep. Oh widespread a lot of good news this morning glory sleepy jacks and cat butter. And in Jamaica they call it Yampa which is also the name of a kind of yam in South America. Wow. Right. Yeah yeah. Grant and Martha and then and then there's Yiddishe. You don't have to be Jewish to have Yiddish words floating around in your family. I remember my Irish family always used the word shrill saying we're sweating. And when I moved west nobody knew what I would say. What are Yiddish words so often used by non Yiddish speaking families. There's two parts to it. The first part is that a lot of Yiddish speakers went to New York City which is the media capital of the world. And so a lot of people who live in New York City go into media and then they use the words and their printed their audio materials in the video materials. But the second one is a lot of people stopped off in New York City for a while when they first immigrated to the United States but they didn't stay there they stayed there long enough to pick some stuff up and then they brought it west with them to the rest of the country. As we all get exposed to more and more mass culture are these family words falling by the wayside do you think. I don't think so. I think anytime you've got an intimate group like that you're gonna develop an insider language and especially with kids who are misunderstanding terms. We just got somebody who wrote us the other day and said Who's Richard stans and the parents really I don't know who's Richard. Well when we sing when we when we do the Pledge of Allegiance we talk about the republic for which yeah yeah. And I'm thinking about when I was a kid we refer to cake as C K K because I was very small and I heard my older teenage brothers talk about whether they could have some CJK. And I didn't know what that was but I knew something was being spelled and it was something that I would want and you know that was our own family term it's never probably never going to show up in any other family but I just think that that is something that gets generated when you're with an intimate group like that. I've been speaking with Martha Barnett and Grant Barrett co-hosts of a way with words which can be heard here on KPBS radio Saturdays at 2 and Sundays at 3:00. Martha and Grant thank you so much. Thanks. Thank you.

As this year’s college freshmen leave their family homes to live with their peers, they may discover that the words their families use for messy rooms, or even body parts, are not exactly universal.

Some of these family words reflect regional differences, some ethnic, but they all have a story to tell.

The co-hosts of "A Way With Words" join Midday Edition on Wednesday to discuss some of the family words KPBS listeners shared.