Terms of endearment (and other gibberish)

Twas nearly 40 Valentine’s Days ago when Tom first called me his little boogma. I was so thrilled to be anyone’s boogma, especially his, that I loved the sound of it. I didn’t even stop to think how he might have come up with such a label but, instead, took it as another sign from the universe that he was my soul mate. I had a brand new word that no other guy was saying to no other girl—one he had concocted on a whim because nothing else fit! In my mind and heart, he was already a part of my family.

Wikipedia calls this neologism—making up a word that only holds meaning for the person who first utters it, and for those who later come to understand its usage. Medical references claim it’s psychotic, probably the result of brain damage or mental imbalance. I call it good old family dialogue and say the medical exerts are full of snash. Our special dictionary is colorful, historic, and only slightly insane. And I’ll proudly add pages to it as long as I can continue to hold a thought and morph it into an expression. Following is an abridged chronology.

dockanoon (circa 1931)
“Please don’t make me go in the attic, Mommy! The dockanoon lives there!”
One of the earliest made up words in family history, this came from my Dad (Mac) when he was about three years old. Late one afternoon, he got a little adventuresome and toddled up to the attic and there it was way up under the eaves, a menacing monster waiting to prey on little boys who ventured out on their own. Much later, he figured out it was a actually a dress form his mother (my Nana) used for sewing, silhouetted by the sun setting through the attic window. He never dropped the word, though, and made sure to pass it down to me and my sister as soon as we became afraid of the dark, too.

oopergawsis (circa 1958)
“Be careful of the oopergawsis when you jump on Daddy’s lap.”
We were just old enough to get rambunctious and still young enough to be scared stiff by dockanoons and other monsters when Mac coined this one. Much later, he’d explain we hadn’t yet learned how boys were different than girls, and the proper terms for their private parts. We hadn’t even had a chance to make up our own naughty names. So, in order to protect himself without getting too graphic, he tried to convince us that an “invisible” monster sat on his lap and was easily disturbed. My sister saw through that story, though. The first time we visited the zoo, she took one look at the male water buffalo, pointed, and exclaimed to everyone within earshot: “Mommy, look at the huge oopergawsis on that one!”

snash (circa 1965)
“I know that you stole all those cookies, so don’t give me any of your snash!”
My cousins and I inspired this word when we were spending the weekend with Nana, our original neologist. We were mischievous preteens, pushing her boundaries and figuring she was too off her rocker to be wise to our antics. We burst out laughing the minute she said it, and snash went down in family folklore as Nana’s gibberish word. Very fitting for someone so easily flustered who wrapped up empty boxes and gave them to us at Christmas. She could remember coming over on the boat from Scotland, but couldn’t remember lunch, so she compensated with Nana-speak. Or so I thought, until I finally looked up snash while researching this post. There it was, right in the Urban Dictionary, common Scottish slang for “verbal insolence.” I stand corrected, Nana! Guess you brought a bit of ancient dialect over on the boat with you and your dockanoon.

gutchies (circa 1974)
“Guess I gotta do laundry so I’ll have some clean gutchies.”
The first time I heard Tom say this in college, I thought it was odd that he nicknamed his undershorts. Then I remembered my own rich history, and was kind of jealous. Why hadn’t I come up with that? It was long before anybody called ’em tighty whities, when only grandpas wore boxers, and I could have been a trend setter. Tom claimed it was his brother’s term, not his. And all these years I believed him, until I finally consulted the Urban Dictionary and learned the truth. It’s a for-real word, supposedly originating in Pennsylvania. Generally not depicting the spiffy, new briefs modeled by Michael Jordan in the Hanes commercials, it can refer to women’s panties, too. Not the Victoria’s Secret variety, mind you, the 12-pack Walmart kind. Who knew?

wlak (circa 2000)
“Jasper’s a good dog, so he deserves a long wlak.”
Some of my most memorable neologisms, including this one, come from not thinking as fast as my mouth is moving. I was attempting to verbally spell out W-A-L-K so our beagle didn’t bust a gasket hearing me utter the actual word. Well, I did better than that by making sure he could never decipher my alphabetic code! Two beagles later, we are still taking the dog(s) out for a wlak.

stugged (2009)
“The table legs were rickety, so Tom reinforced them and now they are stugged.”
I didn’t realize it till later, but when I came out with this one, I was actually following the footsteps of Lewis Carroll and other literary greats in creating a portmanteau—lumping two words together to form a new one. At the time, I thought I was simply admiring Tom’s handiwork. He made a table sturdy + rugged = stugged. Now I use it to describe everything from a well-built backpack to my legs after a long snowshoe.

slub (2012)
“What kind of a slub leaves her wet bathing suit in a lump on the lanai for the rest of the day while she sits and drinks rum punch?”
I won’t confess how many of my portmanteaus I have set free while enjoying a cocktail on vacation. Suffice to say, though, the combination seems to create a fertile environment for some of my most memorable self-expressions. Slug + slob = slub. Somehow, I seem to be more comfortable being a tropical slub than a Rangeley slub. Even with a homemade wine cooler in my drinkin’ jar down by lake, change of latitude, minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, minus rum does not seem to create the same result. Go figure.

Fredded Shosted Wheat / Shark, Puddle and Fly (ongoing)
“Before you open the new box of Cheerios, I want you to finish the Fredded Shosted Wheat.”
“We used to leave our car at the Shark, Puddle and Fly. Now we take the bus to Logan.”
I blame proficiency in this sort of word art on my mother’s love of spoonerisms.
Before Wikipedia defined them as “errors in speech or deliberate plays on words in which corresponding consonants, or vowels are switched,” I knew them as cheap fun around the dinner table. She retold the story of Rindercella and her prandsome hince so often I think it must have triggered the spoonerism synapses in my cerebral cortex. I now carry on her legacy with pride and panache.

camp frau (Present)
“In the middle of winter, when she hasn’t been into Rangeley or down the mountain for awhile, Joy begins to feel like a camp frau.”
This is my own adaptation of house frau, a term I heard my mother-in-law use when talking about living in Germany in her younger years. The house fraus in her neighborhood were stuck in a rut by choice, it seemed, Germany’s version of Donna Reed or June Cleaver without their modern appliances or naturally sunny dispositions. They wanted to be housewives, to have no aspirations greater than polishing silverware and making sauerkraut. The tone she used when she spoke told me my mother-in-law wasn’t one of them, and made me pray to never become her son’s house frau. Sometimes, though, when the days get short, the snow piles up, and I wonder if I’d be a better woman if I swept up around the wood stove one more time, I do feel like a camp frau. But then I remember: Due to temporary circumstances and wanting to live the good life in God’s country, I am a cabin-bound woman, not a camp frau. I am a lucky little boogma.

For other Valentine’s Day posts, see:

2 thoughts on “Terms of endearment (and other gibberish)

  1. Great post! My family was big on spoonerisms and portmanteaus, too, and now that my parents are gone (Daddy was a master of spoonerisms) I feel it my duty to carry on. I think I’m best at just plain made-up words, and as a writer have to be a little bit careful how much I use them in my books. 😉


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