Communication, or the lack of it, is the linchpin of many relationships. The better and closer the understanding through language (and other cues), the greater the likelihood of folks being “on the same page.” It reduces friction and confusion, and heightens a sense of contact and inclusion.
This is on my mind when I think about how many made-up, private or archaic terms I use in my relationship with Marilyn, the dog Scout, and others.
Communicating with my parents was always a problem. They were Old School, Old World kind of people who thought honest speech was rude. In referring to someone’s health problems, they whispered, even when no one else was around. Never complain or resist society’s customs: “Make it look good,” they insisted.
The gap between styles of communication got so broad that when my father moved into his “emeritus” years, the only safe and clear topic of conversation was cars. Instead of “How are you?” or “What’s new with you?” his standard greeting was always “How’s your crate running?” That gave him a springboard for talking about the relative virtues of old cars (good) and modern automobiles (bad).
After nearly 20 years of marriage, Marilyn and I have semi-secret language big enough to fill a small dictionary. Included are the following terms:
Tarryhoot: A loud uproar involving the pets, usually after dark. If Scout chases Marble around the house at 1 a.m., and there’s barking and hissing involved, the operative phrase is “What was all that tarryhooting about last night?”
W: W is, of course, short for W-A-L-K. We’re concerned that Scout, being a brilliant canine, can actually spell, so we say “Shall we take Scout for a W?” By now, she has figured out the meaning based on its context, but we still use it to confuse other people.
Dump the loser: It’s amazing how many folks are stuck in problematic relationships and agonize over what to do. Both in her Dear Marilyn letters and in everyday interactions, we frequently encounter people who are struggling with just how awful things need to get (drugs, infidelity, indifference, still living with his mom at age 42) before a change becomes unavoidable. Our standard, sympathetic, nuanced response? “Dump the loser.”
Open up your future: Marilyn is a kind soul and I am a long-time union guy, and yet, we both have a long history of firing people. I am a strong believer in worker’s rights (let’s all sing “Look for the Union Label”), but I don’t tolerate non-workers who want to also draw a wage. But the term “firing” is so caustic, we’ve adopted the kinder, gentler term “opening up their future.” They’d probably be happier somewhere else. Can be used in place of “Dump the loser.”
That’s so Seinfeld: We are regular viewers of reruns of the old “Seinfeld” TV show. If you’ve never seen it, it’s about a group of self-absorbed but brutally honest people living in the New York City in the Nineties. When one of us (usually me) does something suggesting a disregard for social amenities and a lack of true empathy for the human race, that’s the operative phrase.
Jim Palmer. This is a drink I have named, if not outright invented. It’s three-quarters diet cola, one-quarter lemonade. It’s a riff on an Arnold Palmer, which involves of iced tea and lemonade. While Arnold was a famous golfer, Jim Palmer was a not-quite-as-well-known baseball pitcher, primarily for the Orioles. I am trying to popularize this nickname, sort of like a Cobb Salad or a Long Island Iced Tea.
Tick-Tock, Cowboy: I got this one from my goddaughter Erin. It means “time is running out. When are you going to be done?” Can be applied in a wonderful variety of settings, from journalistic deadlines to people spending too much time putting on eye makeup. You tap your foot, or rap on the door. ‘”Tick-tock, cowboy. We’re going to be late!”
Happy with the result: My politically correct way of saying “That is the stupidest idea in the history of the world.” One of my students or other acquaintances suggests a course of action that clearly has not been the subject of study by more than two brain cells. I tell him or her “Well, you can try that, but I don’t think you’ll be happy with the result.” Always accompanied with a grimace akin to having one’s foot in the mouth of an alligator. Works like a charm.
Off the leash: We enjoy finding a large, safe, fenced area for Scout to romp around in without having to be tethered to one of us. The term also applies to having sudden freedom of action. As in, “Summer’s here and I’m off the leash” or “The project is finally finished; I feel like I am off the leash.” Unfortunately, the leash almost always returns.