What’s Your Lingo?

What's Your Lingo?
Photo by Lauren Peng on Unsplash

I enjoy thinking about language a lot. I spend a lot of my free time doing it, and one of my favorite topics is etymology — how words evolve, what their origins are and where they come from.

Which is why I loved this post on MetaFilter asking for euphemisms for communicating uncomfortable stuff in public.

Lingo is a tricky thing. In many industries and cultures, jargon is a way to keep the insiders in and the outsiders out. My industry, journalism, is widely considered to be a Good Ol’ Boys Club. Thankfully, that is changing, and I am in a group dedicated to giving non-cis male writers support and opportunities usually only afforded to straight white men. Since many of the writers in this group are self-taught and/or early in their careers, the question of journalism lingo comes up a lot. What does TK mean. What is a lede and why is it spelled that way? WTF is a nut graf? This is ironic since journalists themselves try hard to keep the lingo of other professions out of their work.

So — jargon often serves as a gatekeeper. But it can also unite us. Dialects and sociolects denote membership to a group, whether than be a race, a generation, a region or a social class. Those language groupings can be further broken down into something called a familylect, a term coined in 1991 by Bent Søndergaard, a Danish linguist. A familylect is a family’s private language, and as Cynthia Gordon writes, familylects help families (whether genetic or self-made) define themselves and their culture. Not too different than dialects and sociolects.

One of the great things about being in a long-term relationship is developing your own familiylect. That relationship can be your own family — think of all the nicknames your family has for your grandparents — or a friendship, or a romantic relationship. My husband and I have been together for almost 15 years now, and have spent a good deal of that time traveling, which has given us a lot of opportunities to create our own familylect. Here are some of our phrases:

Watermelon — this is our safe word. Mainly used when someone is on the verge of having one too many drinks, or otherwise generally making an ass of themselves. From a open water diving course we took wherein we weren’t allowed to yelp “help” during a hypothetical rescue scenario.

Not like picture— when something does not turn out as you expected. After many years of living in Korea we realized that the pictures of Western food on the menus never quite showed up to the table as they were depicted. We once asked a waitress why our food was different than what we ordered and this was her response.

Let me tell you about pineapples — before “mansplain” was a word, a man literally tried to explain pineapples to both of us.

Now it’s your turn. What are some the the weird phrases, inside jokes, nicknames or other features of your familylect’s lingo?

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