Whenever my sister calls me Doll or Doll Baby, eyebrows go up. They also go up when we call a blond, middle-aged man, who is like a brother, Precious. Much of the language of families and friends comes from what others have called us, from words coined by children or from overhearing others talk.
In our family, Doll is the short form of Doll Baby, used by a hairdresser when my niece was small. After her scalp-yanking haircut, my niece told my sister and me, "Doll Baby is never cutting my hair again."
We relish the term, miles away from the Love or Lovie used by our mother or the Precious used often by our grandmother, particularly for one truly precious blond boy.
We use other names, too. Lulus are bad thunderstorms. A Clarence Gaines is a quick and not thorough cleaning job, similar to those done by a man who worked briefly for our grandmother. Vera Vague is a spacey person, named after a movie character our mother enjoyed and whose name she transferred to a very spacey mother at our school.
Dear Boy, used in Vera Vague movies, is what she called another family friend. The Cricket is my husband, whose springy walk on Roland Avenue inspired my grandmother. Bev is the name my mother and her friends used for our garden, shortened from "Beverly," the ancestral home of the previous owner, who installed our garden.
I live in our family house in Roland Park or the Land of Genteel Decay, as named by a work colleague. I visit close friends in Pikees-ville, coined by my nephew when he was learning to read.
As we age, my sister and I describe ourselves more frequently as "cornfused," a term our father used when he reported seeing the Virginia Military Institute cadets parade down a football field out his window. His writing of the letters MT on empty mouthwash bottles now prompts us to say MT rather than empty.
My mother used euphemisms for bodily parts and places of bodily functions: "bum-bum" or "Frances" for fanny; buz-iasm for bust; Junior Four, the name of the latrine at our camp, for the bathroom, as in "Do you need Junior Four?"
Our grandmother often used French words, particularly after a stroke, when she remembered only French for weeks. She did not approve of overdressed women wearing layers of jewelry. "Bijoux," she'd say with disdain. My sister and I now refer to family jewelry we pass back and forth as the bijoux, and we give each other fleurs.
Many regularly-used family expressions come from the children: Sherman leopards for German shepherds, ficket for spigot, f-getti for spaghetti, collapidated boxes for corrugated boxes, 'puter for computer, baby-suiter for bathing suit, hot-dodgers for helicopters, butta for butter, or pew butta, as my sisters' friends still call the pure magic ingredient in Hudson family recipes.
When someone returns home and asks if anyone has phoned, we reply with a godson's phrase: "Nobody called, and nobody answered."
When we try to model good behavior, we remember another godson, who would say: "Mown-key see; mown-key DO!"
Other words are incorporated after overhearing malaprops. Shredded wheat in this household will forever be shedded wheat. Mercurochrome for decades has been mira-chrome, the museum the newseum, the library the lie-berry and four-poster beds four-toaster beds. We call paramedics the power-matics, and dismal days drizmal days (an on-point malaprop if ever there was one). We simonize our watches.
At the ends of emails to some friends, I use the 1960's expression "Luv ya!," a term my mother's reserved friend still says as she hangs up the Ameche (telephone).
Channeling my grandfather, I reply, "Toodle-loo!"
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