The private language of marriages
July 8, 2019 10:18 AM   Subscribe

 
Nobody reading this column is going to start mentioning serrated knives or waiting rooms.

This line reads like a dare.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:28 AM on July 8 [14 favorites]


This resonates.
posted by salt grass at 10:28 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]


For me and my wife, it's a shocked/awed exclamation of "You have a lot of hair!"
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:40 AM on July 8


My husband and I have been together since we were both quite young; I think this may have contributed to us having dozens of words and phrases that a lot of people might not get, as we've combined the couple-thing with the old-high school/university friend thing. Most of them come from pop-culture ("It was me!"/shocked voice), but a few are just random (talking about finding a licheny-rock, which we once kept finding instead of the portage we were looking for. Licheny rocks are more interesting to deer than portages).
posted by jb at 10:41 AM on July 8


it's funny, after 25 years of marriage, i'm sure we have plenty of these, but none come to mind as i'm thinking about it right now. i will be sure to be aware of this, and make a mental note when we do it in the future.

thanks for posting, it's a lovely piece.
posted by rude.boy at 10:43 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


...Doesn't every long-standing relationship have this, actually? There is a woman alive on this planet that if I called her right now and told me that a certain person and I "went to L.A." together, she would understand that it was harkening back to a shared reference from when we were in Junior High.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on July 8 [26 favorites]


For some reason this is making me think of business lingo. "Who moved my cheese?" and "We're going to open the kimono" and all that feel like an attempt to force a language of shared intimacy on a money relationship. Keeping it inside a real relationship feels so much better.
posted by clawsoon at 10:51 AM on July 8 [11 favorites]


Before actually reading the article I suffered a serious flashback to the first time I visited my future inlaws and discovered that they only had serrated knives in their kitchen. My first Christmas present to them was a proper knife. Once I got past their confusion (apparently giving knives is bad luck?? One more example of culture shock in an intercultural marriage), I realised it was actually the best kind of present, ie one that benefited me most of all, as it remains the knife that I use when I visit them, and no one else ever uses it otherwise.

But yes, other than that, I developed a loathing of in-jokes and shared references thanks to schoolfriend who loooved them and had a special tone and facial expression for repeating them, so I consciously make an effort to avoid them. I like it this way but have become more tolerant of others' fondness for them.
posted by tavegyl at 10:54 AM on July 8 [7 favorites]


the best kind of present, ie one that benefited me most of all

Isn't this in some ways a bad kind of gift, because it doesn't benefit the recipient?
posted by timdiggerm at 10:56 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]


Doesn't every long-standing relationship have this, actually

IME, no.
posted by rhizome at 10:58 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


"We're going to open the kimono"

I hate that phrase in particular, ugh. An otherwise pleasant person I used to work with would say that from time to time and it was nails on a chalkboard, I lost the ability to focus on the content after it came out of his mouth.
posted by Carillon at 10:59 AM on July 8 [44 favorites]


Doesn't every long-standing relationship have this, actually

IME, no.


IME yes? I mean it varies with length and intensity of the relationship, I guess, so it would make sense that it's a particularly strong feature of long lived marriages.

but it's also, just, you know, a callback, repeated enough times that it gains a unique resonance and meaning.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:02 AM on July 8 [4 favorites]


My favorite example of this:

A couple of years ago, somewhere on social media, Mr. Palmcorder and I jointly made up a story about the rise and fall of a marginal (and imaginary) proto-freak-folk band. When my best friend found the thread and earnestly expressed interest in the pretend band, I was able, by weaving a phrase from our collective shared language into a comment, to publicly-but-secretly tell her that the whole thing was bullshit without breaking the flow of the fiction.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:04 AM on July 8 [18 favorites]


My wife and I refer to the process of actually talking to someone so you can dispel the hostile version of them you've assumed and created in your head as "killing ogres."
posted by straight at 11:08 AM on July 8 [17 favorites]


The worst part of this is when the relationship ends and the language dies. I've had this private language with every partner I've had in my life, and I can still remember a lot of the phrases, but they only live in my head at this point.
posted by sockermom at 11:16 AM on July 8 [98 favorites]


I love this essay! Thanks so much for posting it. I think that many of the best long-term relationships (including family relationships, friendships, siblinghoods, etc.) have all of these shared references.

I know people who hate these kinds of repetitive things and I get it! They can be boring, but I appreciate boring on a really deep and serious level. Some people never have a chance to value boring things, which is lucky for them!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:16 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]


The worst part of this is when the relationship ends and the language dies.

Indeed. I still have references in my head to languages from 30+ years ago. One of my worst relationships was rich with these sorts of things.. but never to be spoken again. Pity. A reminder that some things were good even if not everything, I suppose.

People still look at me weird when I talk about "random Larrys" and "mandatory options" but still I persist.
posted by jzb at 11:25 AM on July 8 [12 favorites]


"San Diego" becomes an endless source of both mirth and groaning amongst a group of friends and I who had a exceptionally wild San Diego Pride and road trip. The best part is that I get to retell the story and go "San Diego" to my other friends who hear the story and know what I'm referring to as well.
posted by yueliang at 11:34 AM on July 8


This reminds me of a fantasy short story I heard on Podcastle, Irregular Verbs, about the loss of a language spoken only between a couple.
posted by JDHarper at 11:34 AM on July 8


Thank you for posting this. My gf accidentally referred to deodorant as "D.O." this morning in a sideways association with B.O., and it immediately entered the lexicon but she forbid me from tweeting it to the world. So I feel like you have created a safe place in which to share that gem.
posted by nímwunnan at 11:35 AM on July 8 [19 favorites]


Related.
posted by sacrifix at 11:39 AM on July 8


My wife and I have an entire thieves cant:
"Wash my nubs" = "I need to reassure myself by double/triple checking something."
"May contain bones" = "Prepare for disappointment but it's the best/only option we have."
"Set expectations to mayo" = "This will be sub-optimal."
"You're the President on this." = "You take the lead."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:41 AM on July 8 [37 favorites]


Yup, Herr Duck and I resemble this article.

Last weekend I brought Code Names: Duet camping with a girlfriend. We both love the game, we both play with our significant others frequently. We both consider ourselves to be pretty good at it.

We were AWFUL. I think we played five rounds and came nowhere near winning any of the rounds. We chalked it up to not being used to playing with each other...but more so, we were used to playing with our SOs. We literally don't speak each others languages.
posted by Gray Duck at 11:43 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]


This becomes particularly poignant if you share a language as an immigrant couple and your old in-jokes (in the language and specific dialect you brought from home) are not just connecting you to your spouse, but also your home culture.
posted by The Toad at 11:44 AM on July 8 [16 favorites]


The worst part of this is when the relationship ends and the language dies.

I went through a bad heartbreak with a guy who had a real hatred of tomatoes, which led to a lot of in-jokes about them while we were seeing each other, because I love them. Shortly after we stopped seeing each other I was standing near enough to him at a party to hear him mention to someone that he’d had a BLT, and he caught my eye with this look of sadness and guilt and it just broke my heart. When did you start eating tomatoes?! How could you eat tomatoes without me?!
posted by sallybrown at 11:47 AM on July 8 [68 favorites]


Honestly... a lot of mine are pop culture references, which feels like it shouldn't count because it's not really shared between only two people. But... The context of what the quote means to us specifically is specific to us?

I feel weirdly reluctant to share examples, they feel kind of private. Even though it's just stuff like "what's her name and social security number" from Mr and Mrs Smith.
posted by Cozybee at 11:51 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


My partner and I (and now my son) have a lot of these (I mentioned a few in a Metatalk awhile ago). One we use regularly (last night in fact), to explain our odd behaviour or sometimes just personal preferences on something with "well quirkiness is my hobby" which arose from a friend who finds our very rational (albeit legitimately idiosyncratic) choices on things as examples of our personal quirks. As an example:

Partner: "Oh you're wearing that green shirt today that you wore when you were a juggling patsy."
Me: " Quirkiness is my hobby after all."

Another one we have is a "bowel loosening story" or sometimes we say that something has "bowel loosening properties". This is a story that is so engrossing and/or entertaining that it makes you forget about your constipation and brings on a satisfactory (rather than an alarming or unforeseen) bowel movement. This stemmed from us watching a friend's kid who's charismatic father would tell elaborate & engaging stories while the kid was pooping (they called them pooping stories). When they relieved us of our babysitting duties for the night they asked how things went and I said that it went well but that I didn't think my story had the most "bowel loosening properties". It has stuck, as these things do.

For some reason this is making me think of business lingo.

I was once in a business meeting with a new vendor and we were getting to the deal portion of the meeting and the older gentleman who owned the company said to us "Let's get off the schneid". We all looked at one another deeply confused and continued on to make the deal (despite not knowing what a snide was or if we were ever on it).
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:53 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]


My gf accidentally referred to deodorant as "D.O." this morning in a sideways association with B.O....

My ex-wife consistently referred to deodorant as "D.O. for my B.O.", so I don't think that's an uncommon thing.

Most of my relationships have had some kind of private language and, like Cozybee, most are pop culture references relevant to the two of us. The particular way my ex and I pronounce "CLEEEVE-land", from our shared love of Howard the Duck, is a good example.
posted by hanov3r at 11:54 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Ashwagandha: This stemmed from us watching a friend's kid who's charismatic father would tell elaborate & engaging stories while the kid was pooping (they called them pooping stories).

Any chance he could do some consulting work for me as a toilet trainer?
posted by clawsoon at 11:56 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]


We potty trained our kid by 18 months and he's been remarkably regular ever since so I do have experience.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:59 AM on July 8


@hanov3r -- amazing! she didn't mean to say it and we both had never heard it before. I mean... it makes sense. She will be happily vindicated.
posted by nímwunnan at 11:59 AM on July 8


Mr. Palmcorder's and my weirdest one is probably "(to have an) armpit full of urchins," which means to be very prepared but not very comfortable. (I.e., when you've studied a lot, but you didn't get much sleep, or when you're off to an interview you're pretty sure you're going to nail, but your fancy interview shoes hurt.)

It comes from sea otters' use of under-forelimb pouches to store food.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:07 PM on July 8 [25 favorites]


I have this sort of lexicon with my brother. His wife has now adopted some of our secret language as well, and it’s lovely to be able to share it. But I agree, this isn’t unique to marriage; it’s potentially any long relationship wherein you develop inside jokes; there are certain phrases my best friend and I share that make us laugh that would have no meaning for anyone else.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 12:08 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


My wife and I have the infinitely re-purposable "thing."

"Have you seen the thing?"
"Oh I think it's up on the thing next to the thing."
"OK, got it."


This is a conversation we will have seven times a day without ever not understanding what the thing is.
posted by Cookiebastard at 12:14 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


remains to be seen whether "i'm very familiar with Chinese dignitaries, Marcus" will remain in our lexicon long-term but we are currently finding it very useful.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:16 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


I absolutely have a shared cryptic language like this with a couple of long-standing friends and family members. I really don't think it's limited to just marriages. Loopy private words or phrases that no one else on earth would get, but encompass volumes.
posted by whistle pig at 12:16 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


We have cameras.
posted by TedW at 12:16 PM on July 8 [21 favorites]


I actually have three t-shirts with phrases from this private language, which were gifts from my partner. That relationship has ended and as much as I love the shirts, it makes me sad to wear them.

I do love when people read them and try to make sense of them though.
posted by klanawa at 12:16 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


I actually have three t-shirts with phrases from this private language, which were gifts from my partner. That relationship has ended and as much as I love the shirts, it makes me sad to wear them.

Oh, argh. I have made more than a few of those t-shirts in my day. I hope that one in particular still gets worn though, because the design was exceptionally funny.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:22 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


My best friend and I have an entire language made up of Eddie Izzard references. Sunday watching the World Cup, I made a series of hand gestures that are part of this language, she responded, and my boyfriend looked at both of us as if we'd lost our entire minds.

It was beautiful.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:29 PM on July 8 [17 favorites]


My spouse and I have a lingo that's almost entirely pop culture references, especially with comedians we've discovered together. Eddie Izzard alone is 80% of it, from "What is it, Sebastian, I'm arranging matches" to "Ho ho ho, Baby Jesus!"

Sadly, Louis CK was a big part of the lexicon, and occasionally we'll say "I DON'T KNOW WHICH PIECE TO EAT" or "CUT IT FOR ME" or "It's PIG Newtons..." and then we get sad.
posted by skullhead at 12:29 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


I've got a bit of this sort of thing with a friend of mine from grad school, a fellow Victorianist who knows he can bust out the quotes on Facebook because I'll get it ("Dust and ashes, dead and done with...").
posted by thomas j wise at 12:38 PM on July 8


My best friend and I have an entire language made up of Eddie Izzard references. Sunday watching the World Cup, I made a series of hand gestures that are part of this language, she responded, and my boyfriend looked at both of us as if we'd lost our entire minds.


Keep confirming and denying things!
posted by skullhead at 1:24 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


the best kind of present, ie one that benefited me most of all

Isn't this in some ways a bad kind of gift

That's the joke.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:41 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


My parents had a long standing joke about driving that related to my dad's first boss and his wife. His boss was an older gentleman but did not like to drive, instead he let his wife, Kitty, drive. However, he was quite the control freak and every time Kitty did something complex, dad's boss would ask the car to be quiet. When she was preparing to get on the interstate, dad's boss said, in a very authoritative voice, "Quiet, quiet! Kitty's going to merge!" It became shorthand for everything that was absurd about the world or unnecessary.

This year, our team's quarterback was asked about a particularly shitty game where he threw some interceptions and the recievers dropped a few balls. During the press conference, some brilliant reporter asked him what he thought about the game and those "missed opportunities." He replied, "It is what it is." My husband and I have used that phrase constantly since then. Cause, damn. sometimes it really is what it is.

Finally, my best girls and I used to go to San Diego ComicCon regularly and from time to time we would drink too much. One year, my dear friend was feeling poorly the morning after and we were standing in line for a Supernatural signing in the crazy overcrowded exhibit hall. She saw a nearby rolled up carpet on the floor and gestured at me to hold her spot in line. She promptly curled up and went to sleep on the carpet roll. After some time, a security guard woke her, saying, "Miss. Miss. You can't sleep here." This is has become legend in our group and we will periodically just send each other texts, "Miss..."

Life is about the beauty of shared connections.
posted by teleri025 at 1:43 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]


Alas, after 3 kids, a frighteningly large number of our in-jokes and personal relationship idioms are just old Spongebob Squarepants references.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 1:53 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I've realized from reading these comments that this type of shared vocabulary is an essential marker for me of a really good relationship. Every dear person I can think of has been able to do this type of call back reference; in some cases it builds up over years. Sometimes pop culture but usually just rising organically from shared conversation. It is sad when I realize I'm the only person left alive who knows these phrases, but it does keep the memory alive for me.

It was really embarrassing though when my new MIL decided to start using the Very Intimate NickName my partner and I share with each other, it's based on nonsense/cat noise. It isn't sexual but it was ours and we had to figure out a way to gently let her know it wasn't for her. Of course she wound up being mortified and convinced that it was, in fact, referring to our sex life: that we make some kind of nonsense sound /vague cat noise when, you know, doing it, and that we call each other by this noise name in front of other people? Ewww. We had to develop another nickname and are careful not to use the True Name in front of her.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 1:53 PM on July 8 [15 favorites]


Shaka, when the walls fell. Temba, his arms wide.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:11 PM on July 8 [34 favorites]


After three marriages ending with catastrophic loss of banter, I now rely on my MetaSpouses and their extended relations for my in joke needs. I just heard someone mention "cameras". Banjos back atcha.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 2:16 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


The worst part of this is when the relationship ends and the language dies.

The worst part of this is when the person dies. :(

There is a particular kind of grief in losing forever the possibility of a certain set of in-jokes.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:29 PM on July 8 [20 favorites]


I had an ex boyfriend who used to jack off constantly about his exquisite knives and his tippitytopnotch knife sharpening skills and blah blah blah ad nauseum and once he got two little Victorinox plastic-handled paring knives, one white without serrations and one red with, and they were good but not good enough for him, so he gave them both to me. Then he came over one time and saw the serrated one and went off in a long supercilious rant about serrated knife people, apparently having forgotten he'd given it to me. I have a shitload of fancy fucking chef's knives--two vintage Lile knives--they're Arkansas artisan knifemakers who made the knife in Rambo but also kitchen knives; a sabatier, yaddayaddayaaa--but I don't know how to sharpen them because everyone I know who knows how and could teach me is one of these goddamn BALLERINOs of knife sharpening with fifty different stones and technique and so on and it's all the THEM show. Meanwhile my current beloved boyfriend doesn't know how to sharpen knives and I kind of don't want to learn, myself, at this point, so of late I have been using the goddamn bread knife to cut tomatoes, and you know what? The goddamn breadknife cuts tomatoes PERFECTLY. What's the problem with serrated knives because I'm not seeing it? They cut and you don't have to store fifty fucking whetstones in your house plus spend your life courting a repetitive motion injury? And then performatively shaving hair off your arm in front of some poor bored woman's face? I think I'm going to Kondo the fucking sabatier et alia and my love and I will live out our lives happily as serrated knife people.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:45 PM on July 8 [46 favorites]


I guess I should be glad that my partner appreciates the carbon steel knives I bought her in Japan as much as I do.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:06 PM on July 8


I told Sra. Pardo about this post. She replied, "Nice sweater".

I know what she means.
posted by donpardo at 3:15 PM on July 8 [6 favorites]


For us, basically just quotes from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. "Two wars?" "I've got news! I've got TERRIBLE news!"

We have learned how to take care of knives.
posted by emelenjr at 3:24 PM on July 8


My husband and I met working at Blockbuster video in the late 80s so we have a bunch of movie related inside references. "Jaws": "Wanna get drunk and fool around?" "Animal House": "It's a piece of shit." Must be spoken with the same delivery as Donald Sutherland.

But one of our earliest happened when my husband worked for his father. I would call and ask questions that he could not answer because his dad or the nosy secretary was in earshot. So we decided to come up with a code phrase to make it obvious he couldn't talk on that subject. We both dislike oysters in any preparation. So we decided on, "I had an oyster po-boy for lunch." Immediate signal that he could not discuss something at that moment. We still use it when we are around other people and one of us doesn't want to/shouldn't discuss something.
posted by narancia at 3:25 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Nightrecordings and I often communicate with vines/memes. We'll quote them verbatim. It's a language built on love.
“And they were roomates.”
posted by Fizz at 3:25 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


I've had this with my (now deceased) BFF (sudden miniature heartbreak when one comes to mind), my first boyfriend who is still a great friend, and of course my beloved husband.
posted by biscotti at 3:32 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


By this measure, my husband and I have a very good relationship with our child. We still refer to the children’s hospital complex by the name given to it by our then-three-year-old: Doctor Amy’s House. In fact, a lot of our household shared language is based on our clever small human learning English.
posted by Maarika at 3:32 PM on July 8 [8 favorites]


Yeah, unless you like very cryptic songs being written about you I suggest you do not build this type of private language with me. Because armadillos make breakfast in Amsterdam.
posted by wellred at 3:48 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I too have had this across the course of important relationships both platonic and romantic but holy crap does nothing compare to the full-on lingua franca I have with my current partner. We're capable of conversation with only marginal gestures toward English ("sawad" is "exhausted" because "sawadika" is a greeting in Thai and "Thai" sounds like the first syllable in "tired"; "TORFT" is "QED" because I have a lovely Kenyan aunt who often ends sentences with "True or false? True!", which was clearly ripe for an initialism; "bohppers and kohppers" is an expression of acceptance and gratitude combining constructed diminutives of "boh pehn nyang" and "kop chai", both Lao phrases; "water" is "dor" because...I can't even remember the path on this one but is has something to do with a beach day in which we were making jokes about drag queen Adore Delano?; anything large is a "BIG GIRL" because of ridiculous narration we once heard in a orangutan documentary, I could go one for ages). It is such a warm, calming space to be in: speaking complete but comprehensible nonsense with someone you love. I'd really like to make us a dictionary as a gift at some point--even started making a list some time ago. Isn't language the BEST?
posted by youarenothere at 3:54 PM on July 8 [15 favorites]


My wife and I communicate constantly with phrases from Groundhog Day. ....and a donut... means giving something reluctantly as a sort of bribe. ....if there's no tomorrow, we could do anything!... means giving yourself over to doing something reckless with abandon, usually used in jest, ....me, me, me, I'm really close on this one.... is a reference to narcissistic self absorption. ....it's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's going to last for the rest of your life... refers to bad weather or anything that sort of sucks that threatens to hang around for a while.
The opportunities are endless.
posted by diode at 3:55 PM on July 8


I don’t have a spouse, but I do have a twin. Our most frequent and cryptic in-phrases are, “I don’t want to learn Portuguese tonight!” from an incredibly cheesy video-rental trailer that would play at the beginning of every damn VHS rental throughout the 80s. It wound up becoming shorthand for any kind of impossible task, e.g. learning an entire language in one evening.

The other is from the movie Big Business, which stars Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin as two separate pairs of twins, of course (trivia: this is the first movie that featured the special effect of splicing one actor into the same shot multiple times, also one of Seth Green’s earliest roles). In one scene, one Bette Midler talks about going to Elaine’s for lunch, and the other Bette squeals in an excited voice, “Elaine’s!” with a delightfully prissy gesture involving a pink clutch purse. So now, every time we talk about doing something fancy, we say, “Elaine’s!” and happily, iOS has this emoji 👛 to add a visual to the reference.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:22 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Personally, my favorite version of these are the ones I have with siblings or my parents because there is something about how ten-layers deep they are in family history. For example “the wedging station.” I couldn’t even begin to explain but also my dad does his absolutely silent “I am dying from hilarity laugh” when/if one of us manages to use this phrase.
posted by CMcG at 4:56 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]


Just noticed that this was published in 2010. This isn't intended as a criticism at all, but I'm wondering when/how Chrysostem came across it and was inspired to post today?
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:56 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Don Pepino, I'd be happy to relieve you of the burden of your fancy kitchen knives! :) I can even sharpen them myself, though I try not to be a jerk about it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:59 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


I felt deja vu on reading some of these comments.
Fortunately, I was able to find the thread I was recalling. (warning, the article linked in that post is sad, about the passing of one's spouse.) The thread also had a comment link to "Irregular Verbs".

My spouse and I haven't built this, in the eight-ish years we've been together. I did try to make specific references to her favorite authors into a "warning, you are treading on dangerous conversational ground with someone else" signal, but so far, all my non-sequiturs of "Honey, did Charlotte or Emily Bronte write Wuthering Heights?" just get a puzzled look from her.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 5:22 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


The worst part of this is when the relationship ends and the language dies. I've had this private language with every partner I've had in my life, and I can still remember a lot of the phrases, but they only live in my head at this point.

Oh god yes. My ex-husband and I had a whole language, and when we broke up I was devastated that there were words I’d never speak again because they didn’t actually exist in any other language, never mind in-jokes and phrases from things that no one else would get. It broke my heart. But I find myself slowly building a new one with my now-husband. Which I realised at one point I was reluctant to do, because of the fear of the loss of it, but now am adding “That’s my explainment” and “Book it Danno!” and “It’s just [X] bants” to and I’m happy with that.

Also this has made me remember that my first proper boyfriend (from ages 17-22) and I had a thing where we avoided saying the word “fish” and if we accidentally said it the other one said “You say fish!!” and much hilarity ensued and I don’t have the faintest memory as to why but it still makes me smile.
posted by billiebee at 5:23 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


My husband and I have a ton of these, and sometimes in particular moods we can have entire conversations that make no sense to anyone else.

One day we were on a bus together and this woman in front of us was telling a story at top volume in a gravelly accent and said, "Something smells fishy in Denmark, as the saying goes." We've gotten out of bad real estate and car deals just by saying "Denmark!"

Other phrases:
"Holy Ghost Power!"
"Belly Boppers"
"Ketchup on carbonara"
posted by warriorqueen at 6:03 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


These are all totally wonderful. Thank-yoou for sharing. Only one I want to share, from a old friendship: at least you're not triangular. It isn't too hard to decipher, it just means things could be worse.
posted by Braeburn at 6:28 PM on July 8


My longest relationship really fell apart at the end but I still treasure some of the phrases from it to the point that they are now phrases I use in talking or thinking to myself, and that still brings a pleasing sense of familiarity. "You have to do it MANUALLY."

My nuclear family also has some of these that mostly related back to various absurd arguments, and misadventures at restaurants or on vacation.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:34 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


My wife and I are powered by lemons so we frequently discuss how many lemons we have and lament when we are low or out of lemons. It's from the lemon battery experiment for kids.

"I don't have the lemons for this" is said a lot.
posted by srboisvert at 6:43 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]


Sweetie Darling: "Just noticed that this was published in 2010. This isn't intended as a criticism at all, but I'm wondering when/how Chrysostem came across it and was inspired to post today?"

My wife came across it and forwarded it to me. I'll have to ask her how she happened to see it.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:56 PM on July 8


Back when Reagan reigned in America, my then-new wife and I took a road trip from Washington to Southern Cal. Somehow we got to talking about the little raised lane markers in the road and (since we had no children then we had only ourselves to entertain) started making up stories about these nubbins being turtles, cowering between lanes, hoping to not be hit by passing cars. Naturally, lane markers like these, round or square, are called “turtles” to this day, and the children we eventually raised know them as turtles, too.

I’m certain there are others things like this in our family, I just can’t think of any right now.
posted by lhauser at 7:28 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]


Shaka, when the walls fell. Temba, his arms wide.

At some point in the relationship, I realized that Mr. creepygirl could have whole conversations made up of nothing but allusions to pop culture and shared experiences, and the Darmok episode popped into my head. I made him watch the episode, because, as I told him, "it reminds me of us."

Most of our shared language is pretty boring to anyone but us, but a fairly recent addition to the repertoire is kind of amusing.

We were having Thanksgiving with my cousin and some family and friends. My cousin and I are Asian, as are many of the guests.

Cousin: My nephew's been making kim chee at home. Have you ever tried that?
Me: No, I've never made it at home. Does it make the kitchen smell bad?
Cousin: Yeah, it's pretty strong.
Clueless non-Asian guest: Is that what they're selling at Starbucks now?

On the way home, we passed a Starbucks, and I asked Mr. creepygirl if he could pick up some kim chee. We also made jokes about KCL (Kim Chee Lattes), and declaring that a restaurant's kim chee is "almost as good as Starbucks'". Later I realized that the guest was probably was thinking of kombucha, which makes the question seem a bit less out of left field, but the idea of Starbucks selling kim chee is too appealing for us to drop that particular joke.
posted by creepygirl at 8:58 PM on July 8 [16 favorites]


the best kind of present, ie one that benefited me most of all

Isn't this in some ways a bad kind of gift, because it doesn't benefit the recipient?


In my family we called this type of present a Goldfish because when I was very young my mother asked what we should give my father for his upcoming birthday, and I said "A goldfish!" Because I wanted a goldfish, and had no idea whether Dad wanted one, or not (he didn't).

One more: my spouse is still challenged by English, as well as American politics, and was even more so a few years ago, at the time of a presidential debate. She saw some of it and I asked who it was and she said Hillary and a really stupid man, and from that day forward, the president's been euphemistically referred to as The Stupid Man in our house.

FYI lhauser, Botts' Dots are your turtles.
posted by Rash at 9:12 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]


I know of "road turtles" as legit slang for Botts Dots.
posted by rhizome at 9:32 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, a classic "A-Frame"
posted by braksandwich at 11:17 PM on July 8


We have our own language ("We do not want to be like Stephen King" when picking up our own litter, for instance), but also are able to convey entire reams of meaning in a few gestures. For example, from last May:

Me, in the graphic novel section of the bookstore: [raises chin, widens eyes slightly] ("Hey!")

Mrs. Example, thirty feet away: [raises eyebrows] ("What?")

Me: [tilts head slightly, flicks eyes to the left] ("Get a load of that guy. You'll know the one I mean.")

Her: [looks, finds the guy in the fedora, looks back, smirks, makes quick hat-tipping gesture] ("Oh my GOD. M'lady.")
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:38 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


"And the adventure continues..." is how we laugh off what may be approaching disaster. One of us says that and we look at each other with nervous smiles and march towards fate. From when one of us happily chirped "And the adventure continues!" seconds before we had a minor car accident on vacation many years ago. Just one reason I will never go back to, or even near, Richmond, Virginia.

Also useful, if not particularly private, are 'eranu' and 'uvavu'.
posted by pracowity at 1:52 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


I love all of these. My spouse of over 40 years and I have a shared language, of course, built on everything from movies we've seen to things our offspring said as a child, plus of course he likes to pretend he's the cat talking to me, which allows him to say things he wouldn't say otherwise (no, I don't like that after a certain point, because it reads as nagging). But the offspring and I have a shared language which is different (she is not nearly as charmed by the things she said as a child). All three of us, though, when we're talking about gentrification and racism, resort to a shorthand phrase from Lethal Weapon II, and when talking about road rage, to a phrase from A Fish Called Wanda, which tells you what movies were on steady rotation when the kid was smaller.

I am looking forward to adding to the shared lexicon when the offspring has a baby, as may happen soon.

But one of the things that is less wonderful about a shared language, as others have already said, is when you lose the people who spoke it, whether by estrangement or death; I was just thinking about all the phrases my sister and I shared until I changed and she didn't.
posted by Peach at 4:52 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


After all this time, I can’t remember what it was; but I got that they were telling me, without self-pity but without flinching either, how much they were about to lose.

Yes. Mary Cantwell's short essay, Lawless Friendship, says it this way: "Today I can scarcely bear the terrible singularity of my memories....Yes, I remember. Sometimes I even laugh. But I laugh alone and, oh, the difference to me."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:28 AM on July 9 [8 favorites]


I am trying to get my husband on board with, "Most people have a neck!" as something that is so ridiculous that it is funny. Right now, for him it means something my wife thinks is funny and I don't.

I have these sayings with my family and most friends of more than a year or so. "I took French!" has jumped from a family joke to more than one set of friends.
posted by soelo at 7:51 AM on July 9


This piece definitely um-m-m resonates. The um-m-m-m-ah-hm-m-m-m Lady and I can almost speak hm-m-m-m-um-m-m ahh-h-h volumes using a hm-m-m-ah-h-h private turn of phrase or two.
posted by Count Hasimir Fenring at 8:28 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


"Lobsters on the left"
"too bourgeois"
"panda of love"
"You look like you're about to beach party summer"

(That last is because I misheard the lyrics to Wanna Be Startin' Somethin', FOR YEARS, as Wanna Beach Party Summer)
posted by duffell at 8:47 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


We call it Catsachussetts.
posted by bjrubble at 9:53 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


I made an artwork called something like "the death of a language with only two speakers" after my marriage ended. I still have that file with that lexicon. I think about it when I speak with my current partner and our shared sillinesses come out.

I don't know if it's due to my penchant for wordplay, but every significant relationship in my life has been thick with these. Thanks to robocop is bleeding for the term "thieves' cant." I don't think I'd heard that before.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:10 PM on July 9 [5 favorites]


My partner and I have many of these. Sometimes we remember the origin, for others we don't. Milk is "an old friend" and having milk is getting "a little help from an old friend." The flip-side of this is that when someone else mentions "an old friend" we look at each other and say "Milk?!?!"
posted by snofoam at 3:24 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


I have been with Boyf for 13 years, (last year I upgraded him to Fiance but I still love calling him Boyf). Some of ours:

"That feels like a Metafilter post"

"Citation Needed"

"Don't make me go get THE Dictionary."

"Feels Like Brad's Art"

"This is the size of the garden. All. Over Again"

"To Wikipedia!"

"Y'know a Radio 4 kind of person"

"Do you want me to listen, or do you want a Rubber Duck?"

"NINEWORLDS!"
posted by Faintdreams at 5:07 AM on July 10


We have cameras.

If anyone else wants to feel old: this was eighteen years ago.
posted by joedan at 10:00 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Thanks for that, I was already feeling ancient with eranu and uvavu
posted by billiebee at 10:56 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


I had an ex boyfriend who used to jack off constantly about his exquisite knives and his tippitytopnotch knife sharpening skills and blah blah blah ad nauseum and once he got two little Victorinox plastic-handled paring knives, one white without serrations and one red with, and they were good but not good enough for him, so he gave them both to me. Then he came over one time and saw the serrated one and went off in a long supercilious rant about serrated knife people, apparently having forgotten he'd given it to me. I have a shitload of fancy fucking chef's knives--two vintage Lile knives--they're Arkansas artisan knifemakers who made the knife in Rambo but also kitchen knives; a sabatier, yaddayaddayaaa--but I don't know how to sharpen them because everyone I know who knows how and could teach me is one of these goddamn BALLERINOs of knife sharpening with fifty different stones and technique and so on and it's all the THEM show. Meanwhile my current beloved boyfriend doesn't know how to sharpen knives and I kind of don't want to learn, myself, at this point, so of late I have been using the goddamn bread knife to cut tomatoes, and you know what? The goddamn breadknife cuts tomatoes PERFECTLY. What's the problem with serrated knives because I'm not seeing it? They cut and you don't have to store fifty fucking whetstones in your house plus spend your life courting a repetitive motion injury? And then performatively shaving hair off your arm in front of some poor bored woman's face? I think I'm going to Kondo the fucking sabatier et alia and my love and I will live out our lives happily as serrated knife people.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:45 AM on July 9 [41 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


I like you.
posted by saysthis at 5:10 PM on July 14 [1 favorite]


(I do not understand the banjos/cameras thing, but I wish I did.)

For reasons I don't remember, my wife and I early on latched onto our shared memories of Daniel the Striped Tiger, from Mr Rogers, as the foundation for some bits, mostly ways to convey affection. One of them is nonverbal: one of will point to his or her left wrist, as an invocation of Daniel (who always wore a watch).

We've had to create a contrived alternative, though, because after doing that for a while we realized it parsed to other people as "I'm bored / look at the time / let's go".

Oops.
posted by uberchet at 9:41 AM on July 16


I do not understand the banjos/cameras thing, but I wish I did.

MeFi has a Wiki and it has a section for In Jokes, and those are on there:

Banjos. (and its subsequent MeTa.)

Cameras. (and the exchange that cemented that in the language.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:23 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


(Empress, those are both HILARIOUS and I'm sorry I missed them at the time.)
posted by uberchet at 4:34 PM on July 16


« Older "I hope this information hasn't come out too late...   |   Politics and Sports, or, an Appreciation of the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments