Last year, when that cunning polyglot Sarah Palin was castigated for her invented word “refudiate,” she invoked Shakespeare and the perpetual evolution of the English language. While the Bard might execute the expected cemetery gymnastics in being compared to a person who never met a present-tense verb she couldn’t wrest of its “g,” the Barracuda was, to her credit, quite savvy in her assessment of our mother tongue. Admittedly my opinion is biased given that apart from some passable conversational French, it’s the only language with which I’m intimately familiar, but I find the almost infinite permutations of “the Queen’s” fascinating. Dialects, accents, patois, cant, slang, rhyming slang, textspeak (editor’s note: vomit), jargon, technobabble, profanity, and the notion that a person from back-street Glasgow and one from Texas would never be able to understand one another despite using all the same words. Particularly the profanity. The great Stephen Fry recently tweeted what has become my new favourite: “Bollocks arse wank and tittypoo.” Try it sometime when you’ve just bashed your thumb with a hammer. To quote The King’s Speech, it flows trippingly from the tongue.
It doesn’t have to be countries developing their own variations on English. New lexicons spring up amongst even individuals. As a relationship develops, partners formulate their own code and refine terms that are of use only to them. Married friends of mine say “Icarus” to alert each other when their child is verging on a tantrum – justified props for the classical reference to the guy who flew too close to the sun on wax wings. My own better half and I have conjured a host of phrases that are nonsensical to outsiders but capture with craftsman-like precision the very substance of the entity being described, in a relaxed, familiar manner that lets us know just what the other is thinking and feeling at that moment. I present for your entertainment then, a sampling of our forays into etymology, and trust that you will not come away thinking us insane. Pronunciation guide added where appropriate.
- Bluhcky: BLUH-kee (adjective): Descriptive for inclement weather, particularly that which is a combination of cold, damp/raining, fog or gray. “It’s a really bluhcky day out today.”
- Boogloo (noun): Our cat’s covered bed, which resembles a small igloo, and thus a portmanteau of that and boo-boo-kitty. “The cat is asleep in her boogloo.” An additional note here is that boo- can be used as a prefix for any number of objects that relate to the cat: Boo-bits (her food), boo-box (where her food goes when she’s done with it), boo-barf (the occasional unfortunate hairball).
- Burnippy: BRR-nippy (adjective): Descriptive of a state of extreme cold. “It’s supposed to be really burnippy tomorrow.”
- Dirters (noun): Portmanteau of dirty and unders, i.e. underwear, used to refer to any form of laundry that needs attention. “Don’t leave your dirters on the bedroom floor.”
- Frabjabbits (noun): Exclamation to be used in situations deemed unfortunate, similar to “goshdarnit.” “That local sports team lost again. Oh, frabjabbits.”
- Poobulasquaooh: POO-buh-lah-squah-ooh (???): Placeholder for any song lyric that defies comprehension. This is my father’s interpretation of a hastily delivered, slightly obscure line from Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” which actually goes “The woman is wild, ooh.”
- Shmorgee-borgee (noun): A meal consisting of a random assemblage of whatever food happens to be available, usually leftovers. “We have lots of chicken and veggies and stuff so let’s just have a shmorgee-borgee tonight.” An obvious if Swedish Chef-ized variation on “smorgasbord.”
- Showeriffic (adjective): Descriptive for how one feels after a warm, cleansing and satisfying shower, especially if one was particularly dirty and/or sweaty going in. “That shower with the sixteen jets is just showeriffic.”
- Snorfly (adjective)/The Snorfles (noun): The state of feeling congested due to a cold or persistent allergies. “Cleaning up that cat hair gave me the snorfles” or “I feel all snorfly after being out in the rain.”
What can I say, they require less spitting and hacking than Klingon. Seriously though, just try slipping a few of these into your next conversation and let me know about the blank stares you get back. But don’t tell me you don’t have your own mini-dictionary of words and phrases just for you and yours. It’s how we personalize a flexible, slightly weathered old horse we’ve all been sharing since Beowulf – how to make a little piece of English, a very common good, our very own. Sounds pretty cromulent to me.