You don’t have to be enrolled in a “dual language immersion class” to know more than one language. In fact, most of us know at least three or four.
Of course, there’s your native language, and maybe a second language that you adapted to if you are an immigrant. You might even know a smidgen of the argot of elder members of the family … I know a few swear words in Italian.
But as you go through life, you pick up new forms of speech. At work, there is often specific language of your trade or profession. In my college days of slinging hamburgers, we yelled “six on 12” to designate putting cheese on six patties out of a dozen. “Twelve out of itself” meant cheesing the whole bunch.
In journalism, we learned that a “skinback” meant an article clarifying or retreating from a flawed piece previously published. “A-Matter” referred to the material that followed the opening paragraph. “Dogleg” identified a certain way of laying out type.
In the military, “ate up” meant you looked awful, especially as regards your uniform or grooming.” A “pogue” stood for Persons Other Than Grunts, meaning a soldier who was nowhere near the front line. “Pogey Bait” was snack food like chips and sodas. There are many other fine terms which are not publishable here, many of which end with “-er.”
Education abounds with them as well. “Rubrics” and “scaffolding” defy the understanding of the masses, but are widely used among the whiteboard profession.
At my age (a military secret!), I have learned that language and terminology are not just learned but also created by you and me. Here is a quick guide to some of our family’s slanguage.
- “W.” That stands for Walk. If you don’t want to get the dogs excited prematurely, you say “W” before the promenade actually begins. “Are the dogs ready for their W?”
- “Farkle.” An all-purpose fake profanity. “Ah, shoot, I farkled up.”
- “Wheels Up.” The precise moment when we leave the house, not a vague estimate of the time of departure. “I want to be wheels up by 7 p.m.” Failure to be ready at the exact wheels-up moment is a form of farkling.
- “Kittydog.” This sort of precious babytalk is a substitute for a word you can’t think of at the moment. “Where is that … kittydog”?
- “Rebuked and chastised.” Said to children and pets in a mock-serious voice. “You chewed up that book? You should be rebuked and chastised. Or maybe you’d prefer to be chastised and then rebuked?” They don’t understand it, but it allows you to blow off some steam without actually bending a commandment.
- “Yarking.” Dogs have several different tones of barking, depending on the circumstance. “Yarking” is a combination of yelling and barking, so it refers to a high-pitched insistent bark, usually preceding feeding or walking time.
- “Santa Maria!” is an exclamation of exasperation. “Santa Maria! Aren’t you ready for wheels up? The dogs have been yarking for a half-hour!”
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts is posted on alternate Wednesdays. If you’ve got some fun slanguage of your own, send it along to us at firstname.lastname@example.org .