Right now, I am in love with Gretchen McCulloch and her book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. Because her subtitle notwithstanding, McCulloch is not so much setting down rules in the usual sense, but trying to make sense of emails and tweets and Facebook posts. By
the first chapter, I had learned a new word, keymash, which she defines as "that haphazard mashing of fingers against the keyboard to signal a feeling so intense that you can't possibly type real words....[and] might look something like 'asdljklgafdljk.'" And then, McCullouch goes on to give five "patterns" that keymash tends to have beginning with they usually begin with "a." Wow, a paragraph ago, I didn't know what a keymash was, and now, I know some of its "rules," which as in all things language, are all preceded by "almost always" or "usually." Like i before e except [insert 3 million extra rules and exceptions here.) See, I like that about language. Exceptions. Almosts. Usuallys. Don't count on it, buster.
Anyhow, that was chapter one, "Informal Writing." Chapter two "Language and Society," begins with one of my favorite topics, "Dialects." (Check it out: fun history of its beginnings in the 18th century Germany and France.) The author asks, "Does it ever feel like your family...speaks its very own dialect?" Why, yes, yes it does. And decades ago, I wrote about it for a WVIZ show called, "Signature," which featured brief personal essays read by local authors. I myself read several on air, but the show was cancelled before I ever got to spout this one. And though my parents are dead and my siblings barely speak to me, these words remain true, even though I haven't read Garp since 1979, even now in the age of the Internet, although not Because Internet:
Kendigese was our dialect of Familish, a variation of English understood only within a particular family. In the movie Garp, the terms "undertoad" and "gradual student" distinguish the Garpese dialect of Familish.
Kendigese was particularly helpful at the table. If asked to pass a roll and not "the creepled kaind" pass a cloverleaf, a plump one, not a mangled one. This expression originated with my mother's childhood neighbor, Mrs. Kostoff, a Bulgarian, who coined another of our phrases, "three handkerchiefuls." In a sentence like, "This TCM movies is a three handkerchiefuls," it means that the movie jerked a lot of tears out of you. And don't be telling me about the proper "handerchiefsful." This is our dialect's rules now.
If you were asked to pass something that was "kittyunkwise," from you, that would be on a diagonal more acute than if you were told it was "cattycornered," the usual word for a diagonal.
Or my father might laughingly shout, "Howlda moulda fresch dein zoup," which he told us his father shouted at the table when his brood of 13 got going, and it meant, "Hush up and eat your soup." My grandfather was Pennsylvania Dutch, and when my sister took German, she learned how very far that phrase is from hushing and soup. And since we shouted it as likely during dessert as soup, it really was a non sequitur.
As an aside, my mother could have been the keynote speaker at a non sequitur convention. She would spout baffling aphorisms like "time is time" and "money is money" at untimely and uneconomical places in the conversation.
McCulloch notes that many family dialects are inspired by the children, as with my friend Kate's family expression, "se la vache," French for "such is the cow,"
which was one of the children's renderings of her father's response, "se la vie," when the children were whining in self-pity."
Kendigese's unsympathetic response to children's perpetual question, "Why?" (pronounced whyyyyyeeee? Close, now do it while you whine) was"Why don't toads have wings?" which short for "If toads have wings, they wouldn't bump their butt when they jump, but they do bump their butt because they don't have wings is why.")
There are other Kendigeses. Heresickness is one. "Homesickness" means to miss home, what happens to you when you come from a home you love, and it can happen in the best of places, even staying overnight at Grandma's, but "heresickness" well that is being in a miserable place. A "thing" is just a thing, but a "dingus" is at thing which my father told us (in adulthood, over the phone) to lift, turn, or relight, and when we did, whatever was not working, would suddenly work. A "good time" is a good time, but a "laughy time" in a fun time, and that comes out of my memory for the first time I ever remember coining a word, when I was 3 or 4 years old.
I don't have time right now to provide an unabridged dictionary of Kendigese, because as Mom used to say, time is time. (And all you old Clevelanders remember what Capt. Penny said about what Mom said.) Besides my goal here is not to teach my dialect but to talk you into listening to your own and your friends' and your in-laws'. If you are confronted by what you think is someone's Familish, ask for the meaning and etymology. Speakers of Familish are bilingual, and their translation might be quite laughy.
It will not surprise parents of teens to learn that McCulloch notes that high school is the place where kids really note small social details, like who is going out with whom and who is wearing what and --get this-- vowels. Check out her paragraph on Detroit high school students' vowels.
Meanwhile, I have to finish chapter two. I can hardly wait for chapter five,
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