Brand building through storytelling

The secret language of families

Around our house we never speak of Tim Hortons. It’s not that we’re too high and mighty for the omnipresent doughnut chain, so beloved by Canadians and no small number of Americans as well. Those familiar coffee-scented shops with their array of cardiologically incorrect treats have been part of our family’s history since well before Ben teamed up with Jerry. Which is precisely why we have our own name for Tim’s—the one coined by our preschool son on a long-ago family outing to buy chocolate crullers. You say Tim Horton’s, we say Hornuts. And will forever more. Because when we talk about Hornuts, the real subject isn’t transfat-laden confections but the identity we’ve shaped as a family.

A.A. Milne once wrote, “Your family, like every other family, has a language of its own, consisting of unintelligible catch phrases, favorite but not generally known quotations, obscure allusions and well-tried but not intrinsically humorous family jokes.” I discovered this quotation—and a feast of quotable examples provided by phrasemaking families—in Ben Schott’s vocabulary blog at the New York Times website. Among the gems that caught my eye:

Wait-and-see pudding: The answer to “What’s for dessert?”

Mean as Aunt Nancy: A backhanded tribute to a formidably nasty old crone remembered by no one still living.

Manhood: The TV remote (“Where’s the manhood?”)

Boodle deedle: The worn edge of a blanket.

TINOBT: This is not our best time (from the 1990s recession).

Chicken is made out of fish, you know: A rejoinder to any patently ridiculous statement.

Hey, Elvis: You need to adjust your collar.

In my late father-in-law’s family, you couldn’t leave the house without hearing the in joke “Don’t forget to walk the dog.” They had never owned a dog, and that was the point.

Kidspeak is a rich vein of family language—and the favoured one where I grew up. What does it say about the Maynards, I wonder, that all our terms were coined by my younger sister? For instance, your bottom was your “kedelly” (“kedell” for short) because that’s what she used to call hers while propelling herself around on it, crab-style. Using her baby lingo gave us a warm family feeling—WFF, to those in the know.

Perhaps it’s because we only had one child and never remembered to write down the sweetly funny things he said that my husband and I feel so compelled to keep his baby talk alive. We call my home state “New Hamster” because that’s what Ben called it when we first took him there, around the time his day care centre acquired a furry rodent with a wheel. Ben, of course, wouldn’t dream of using that term. But I’m honoured to be one of just two people in the world who could say, as I said over dinner a short while ago, “Have you heard that the gay marriage bill just got passed by the New Hamster state senate?” I like the jauntiness of that line. It gives me a bracing shot of WFF.


Posted by Rona

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