How We Say What We Mean

Years ago, I heard Vashanti Rahaman speak at a Missouri SCBWI conference on bridging the cultural gap.  Vashanti grew up in the British West Indies but she was discussing bridging the gap between her semi-rural midwestern life and the experience of New York editors.

What in your life might seem odd to someone else?

Repeat after me: The big silver thing is an ICE BOX.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized how odd some of the phrases in my family vocabulary are.  Some of my favorites:

Ice box:  You know what it is.  A pre-electricity refrigerator.  But my grandmother used this term interchangeably with frig.  Every now and again it pops up in my own vocabulary.

Feeling puny:  When you are just generically under the weather you are puny.

Taking a Morgan Street:  This is what we called bathing in the bathroom sink or in a wash pan when you were camping.  For years I thought it was “morgan streak” as in nude running about.  Now I wonder if this is a boarding house phrase, for bathing in a rented room with only a pitcher and basin.

Finnegan’s Best — what my grandmother called cough syrup.   Finnegan was a local pharmacist who sold boot leg in cough syrup bottles.  Yes, my dear little granny knew where the speak easies were too.

Think about the odd turns of phrase in your own family.  Is there something you would have to explain to someone else?