Why We Speak More Weirdly at Home

Why We Speak More Weirdly(ˈwirdlē) at Home

When people share a space, their collective(kəˈlektiv) experience can sprout(sprout) its own vocabulary(vōˈkabyəˌlerē), known as a familect.

By Kathryn Hymes

I celebrated(ˈseləˌbrādəd) my second pandemic birthday recently. Many things were weird about it: opening presents(ˈprez(ə)nt) on Zoom, my phone’s insistent photo reminders from “one year ago today” that could be mistaken for last month, my partner brightly(ˈbrītlē) wishing me “iki domuz,” a Turkish(ˈtərkiSH) phrase(frāz) that literally(ˈlidərəlē) means “two pigs.”

Well, that last one is actually quite normal in our house. Long ago, I took my first steps into adult language lessons and tried to impress my Turkish American boyfriend on his special day. My younger self nervously(ˈnərvəslē) bungled(ˈbəNGɡəld) through new vocabulary—The numbers! The animals! The months!—to wish him “iki domuz” instead of “happy birthday” (İyi ki doğdun) while we drank like pigs in his tiny apartment outside of UCLA. Now, more than a decade later, that slipup is immortalized(i(m)ˈmôrdlˌīz) as our own peculiar(pəˈkyo͞olyər) greeting to each other twice a year.

Many of us have a secret language, the private lexicon(ˈleksiˌkän) of our home life. Perhaps you have a nickname from a parent that followed you into adulthood. Maybe you have an old joke or a shared reference to a song. Sometimes known as familects, these invented words, pet names, in-jokes, and personal memes swirl(swərl) and emerge from the mess of lives spent in close quarters(ˈkwôrdər). During the pandemic, we’ve spent dramatically(drəˈmadəklē) more time in those quarters, and our in-group slang(slaNG) has changed accordingly.