Saturday, July 26, 2008

More fun with language

Okay, maybe fun isn't the right word. Maybe obsessive-compulsive tics. This is how I feel sometimes about Ed's little alliteration game from the other day...amusing, enjoyable, insidious, malevolent.

Back when Rhian and I were about to welcome our first kid, we got into this weird habit. I guess she had mentioned to me once that Canadians pronounce the letter "h" differently from Americans--they say "haitch," not "aitch." (Canadians: true?) In any event, we promptly began tacking the letter "h" onto the front end of any word that began with a vowel, giving us "honions," "heggs," "you're a hasshole," etc.

When Owen was born, we quickly began calling him "O," which was immediately upgraded, thanks to Canada, "Ho," and from there, the wildly inappropriate "Ho Chi Minh." That was too long, so we shortened it to "Chi-Minh," which was shortened further still to "Cheem." For a long time, the baby was referred to as "Cheem." (I could spring from here to a discussion of pet names, but I'd rather stay married. You know what I'm talking about, though.)

We also went through a period of softening consonants (for instance, "p" became "b"; "t" became "d"), and then one of hardening them; and then we started doing both at once, so that "birds" became "pirts," a "backpack" turned into a "pagbag." We got over that one, eventually, but a few words have remained in the lexicon, as have a few artifacts of particular funny regional or international accents we've indulged over the years, or exaggerated parodies of people we've encountered.

I don't believe there's anything especially unusual or writery about any of this, though I assume we indulge it with a little extra elan, and get perhaps a little extra delight out of it, compared to your normal citizen. But ultimately, these games are, I would bet, common to most people, especially couples, who can evolve in-jokes with blinding speed. Examples abound: Cockney rhyming slang...baby talk...LOLcat speech. (I knew we were in a new kind of era when I heard my department chair exclaim delightedly, during a VIP dinner, "I can has cheezburger!")

If you have any personal language amusements you'd like to torture us with, by all means, spill 'em. Or, should I say, zbill 'em.

7 comments:

McQ said...

As the daughter of two French-Canadian (though now French-Canadian-Californian), English-as-a second-language-speaking parents and a whole slew of still-Canadian relatives, I believe I possess the expertise to confirm, rather definitively, that the haitch thing is true.

Just reading (and not even out loud) the words "honions" and "heggs" made me feel like I was in the middle of an impromptu family reunion, feasting on plogues and cretons with my Tantes Colette, Brigitte and Jacqueline (among many others). Pretty cool how one little letter can do all that...

Another common French-Canadian thing? "Shrimps" instead of "shrimp." My parents both still say it that way, and they've been in the US twice as long as they lived in Canada.

Feel free to incorporate "shrimps" into the Lennellison family lexicon next time you're enjoying peel 'n eat at Maxie's...

rmellis said...

You know, exchanging p's for b's and t's for d's is an artifact of Welsh, the study of which I abandoned more than a decade ago. Maybe that's where it came from...

We will now officially say "shrimps" at every opportunity.

*returns to cave*

jrlennon said...

Don't you mean "gafe"?

McQ said...

I couldn't figure out why the p/b t/d thing sounded familiar, but of course it's because of your impromptu living room sofa lesson in Welsh pronunciation during that time we McQs were contemplating our potential move there.

So glad I could lure you from the cave, at least momentarily (though I do have some serious respect for your current caviness). We bought some gorgeous Gulf shrimps just this morning - I'll hoist a big spoonful of shrimp(s) bisque in your honor when we sit down to eat. (And promise to provide Gulf shrimps for all when we're someday successful in luring you far enough out of the cave to come visit!)

zoe said...

We never call our children by their real names. Luca went through various versions until he is now, mostly, Dukes. Lola is ling-long or Lolly, but more increasingly, Furious George, and Rocco is called Rocktacular or similar.

In my defence, I read somewhere once that clever people can't help but play with names and that it's a sign of vast intelligence. I'm sticking with that.

A sidebar to the whole names/writing business is that when naming the children I couldn't stop myself from giving them ridiculously enormous, elaborate and, yes, possibly pretentious names. I just couldn't resist it. It was like naming characters in a novel. Characters that will eventually be bullied for their names and hate my guts.

myles said...

When our household went through a Slim Gaillard phase, everything was spoken in his "vout-a-reeny" patter. So the dog, who is called Zelda, became "Zelda-Roony Mac Vouty wit' the Flim-Flam-Fly".

Took us forever to form sentences.

AC said...

This is almost too goofy to share, but in my household we like to give objects new names based on their characteristics. Sometimes we forget that we made up the word and are embarrassed when we use it in front of other people.

For instance, the corn-filled pillow that gets heated in the microwave and then radiates such bliss into sore muscles is a "neckjoy".

And my invisiline braces are my "creepy teeth" or more recently, my "overteeth". As in overshoes. I feel like I should slip them on over my regular teeth when my mouth goes slogging through chocolate pudding.

I can't even claim the dignity of a linguistic influence. It's just English "homesign".