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Familial Language

I’m not sure familial language is the right phrase. Common language? Tribal language? Either way, I wanna talk about the linguistic shorthand (might not be the right phrase either) that groups of people develop over time.

Let me explain.

I was on a trip last month with my husband’s family. We were in Costa Rica and so there were several conversations about going to visit the monkeys that lived down the beach. Every time someone mentioned the monkeys, I would say, “Yes, ze minkeys,” and then chuckle to myself. But there was no one there to chuckle with me because there was no one from my family of origin there.

See, growing up, my family was big on quoting movies. We all have a theatrical bent and so enjoy quoting movie lines at each other in just the right tone and seeing who can name that movie. We had a pretty big collection of movies we watched over and over throughout my childhood that we are all familiar with. These movies have provided many inside jokes for us, and it’s also just a way to connect, make someone smile, etc… I can say “Dead Tom is dead” to any of my family and they’ll likely quote the next line of, “But Dead Tom has always been dead.” It’s linguistic shorthand for our family, and provides constant inside jokes.

Layered on top of that are the movies that my siblings and I made when we were younger. That’s where “Ze Minkeys” comes from. Once upon a time, I played the role of a pregnant French woman with an exaggerated accent walking through the jungle. So on top of movie quotes that come from legitimate movies, my family can also communicate with lines from our own home movies.

As I sat at breakfast in Costa Rica, muttering about “Ze minkeys” to myself and lamenting the fact that no one there understood how funny I was being, I started down this line of thinking. The familial language that I have with my family of origin is movie lines, so then…what about my husband and I? Do we have a similar shorthand? A collection of phrases that we both instantly recognize and will make us smile?

Oh yes, we do! Strong Bad. Those who attended college around the same time that I did will likely know what that is, but for those who don’t: it was a cartoon from a website, and they made little shorts where a character named Strong Bad responded to emails from people who watched these cartoons. Snarky hilarity and shenanigans ensue.

Anyway, because my husband and I met in college and were both familiar with and appreciated this silly animated character and his band of weirdo friends, that became our shorthand, and to this day, if I say, “In addition to the cut of your jib, I likes the sound of your town,” he knows exactly what I’m referring to.

I thought all of that was pretty interesting and wondered if other people have a library of phrases that they share with their family and that invokes immediate understanding while hearkening back to good memories and a shared life. If so, I’d love to hear about it!

As a bonus (and to prove my point), this is a comment that my sister made on my Facebook post about the monkeys we went to feed:

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