Pharos-Tribune

October 24, 2013

ABBOTT: Does your family have silly phrases?


Pharos-Tribune

---- — Driving home from West Lafayette yesterday I listened to an interesting radio program about word origins. One of the words highlighted was “caddywampus.” Turns out this word originates from a word meaning diagonal and has thirty similar words in the English language.

Spending four solitary hours in the car yesterday, I thought about words and phrases my parents and grandparents said while I was growing up. These were special sayings that meant something to us but possibly no one else. Does your family have words or phrases like that?

For example, when my mother came across a person who said or did something untoward, she said, “They are not kind and good.” Now, another person might say, “They are a murderous thug.” My mom always put her own spin on things.

She liked dogs a lot and when encountering almost any canine, she said, “That’s a nice doggie.” I hope not to incur the wrath of readers, but I am not a dog person. Dogs and I have never mixed. Dogs sense my fear or disdain and go right for the jugular, or worse. But, my mom never saw a dog she did not like; every rabid mongrel was the sweetest thing she had ever seen.

When Mom wanted us kids to stop fooling around so she could speak seriously to us about something, she would say, “I’ll be Frank and you be Ernest.” I suspect this comes from the comic strip of the same name, which has been published since 1972.

Growing up, we had a special word for the cardboard rolls that Christmas paper came on. We defined them by their ultimate use as weapons – conkers. We used our conkers to bash each other on the head on Christmas morning.

My father has always been full of his own brand of wisdom. My mom used to call his sayings, “Fiction and Facts from Willie’s Almanac.” Many of the things he says came from his own mother, including one that no one really understands. When something is bound to happen or inevitable, he says, “Let the drap fall.” We have no clue as to what a “drap” is – an Internet definition says it is a commune in southern France. I seriously doubt that my material grandmother who spent her entire life in Indiana knew about communes in southern France. If any reader can tell me what the expression means, I’ll be grateful.

My father has several euphemisms for swear words, including something akin to bat buono. I cannot print the exact wording. It’s easy enough to curse—coming up with a descriptor like “condensed owl feces” like my father says takes real talent

Ask if he was going to do something specific or go somewhere, Dad says, “If the Good Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise.”

My maternal grandparents said certain phrases repeatedly. My grandmother, who was a registered nurse, often nagged at my grandfather about his habits of eating high-fat food. He looked at her square in the eye and said, “One meal at a time, LeNore.”

My adult child has been subject to the whims of language in our own three-person family. We’ll save those for another day, or 30 years from now when our son is writing his own newspaper column about his odd relatives.

Amy Abbott is an Indiana-based writer who pontificates and kvetches on a bi-weekly basis in a dozen Indiana newspapers. If you happen to know what the heck a drap is, drop her a line at amy@amyabbottwrites.com.