Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cool new phrases to drop casually into conversation

Over time every family or group of friends develops its own insider vocabulary, expressions rich in meaning that are only understood by those initiated into that intimate circle. Eventually, though, almost all of these cryptic yet delightful phrases will disappear with the family or group, never to be uttered again by following generations. And even though our official language is absorbing new terms every day, the chances that one of these exclusive terms will ever be used widely enough to be included in a dictionary are about the same as an unpublished English teacher landing a publishing contract for her 464-page memoir about getting dumped by her ex.

Selfishly, however, I can’t help but hope that the unique vocabulary of my own family and close friends will spread to a wider audience and perhaps one day allow us to achieve immortality by leaving behind, if nothing else, our linguistic mark on the world. And you can help make this happen.

How? Take a look at some of the nifty phrases below. Choose your favourites and then try dropping them casually into conversation with your friends. If you receive any raised eyebrows, you can calmly explain the meaning with a faintly condescending tone, as if to say, “You’ve seriously never heard that word before?” Before you know it, the phrases will spread across the whole English-speaking world. Which means they will take over the universe.

And if that doesn’t help me and my people become immortal, at the very least it will make you sound pretty cool.

the Planet Salt(proper noun) the planet of origin of individuals who are known to add salt to corn chips, sausages and Spanish olives. Natives of the Planet Salt are easily identified by a tendency to use a salt jar instead of a saltshaker, a consistent rejection of lollipops and cream puffs, and fanatical statements such as “I’d rather skip breakfast than eat toast with unsalted butter.” Apparently scattered randomly across the Earth, there may be evidence of a genetic component to their distribution. My dad was undoubtedly from the Planet Salt: is it merely a coincidence that I am too? And I have grave fears for my son, who at not yet two and a half, spits out mesculin salad after sucking off the vinaigrette and calls his aunt’s pasta salad “ucky” before bursting into tears and blubbering “Mamma, sale!” Thank goodness he doesn’t salt the healthy snacks I provide him with: capers, salami and edamame in soy sauce.

abstract fussiness(noun) the complex of fiddly delays which prevent a person from leaving the house in a timely fashion. In the morning on the way to work, this may include obstacles such as looking for the car keys, needing to change your top for the third time, forgetting to pack your leftover curry chicken for lunch, or even simply being stalled by a nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something essential. The ensuing lateness to your destination ranges from five to twenty-five minutes. (Anything longer indicates that your fussiness was not entirely abstract.) Parents commonly shift the blame for their abstract fussiness to others: someone has misplaced your sunglasses, your kid has done a last-minute poo in his diaper, etc. But ultimately, the world will be a better place if we each take responsibility for our own abstract fussiness.

sleep envy(noun) the feeling a sleep-deprived person experiences when another person shamelessly flaunts what a good night’s sleep they have just had. Fortunately, this is something I never ever feel when I am woken up at five thirty in the morning by a screaming toddler, for the fourth time since midnight and – when I’m dragged out of bed in the semi-darkness to watch Pimpa cartoons on Youtube – I find my husband sleeping peacefully on the couch. I don’t even experience sleep envy when he yawns and says, “That wasn’t such a bad night, was it?” and definitely not when he says, “I was just having the most amazing flying dream.” Sleep envy is reduced to a bare minimum when he adds, “God, I slept like a log.” Because I’m a big person. Extremely magnanimous. I just look at him tenderly and say, “I’m so pleased you slept well, darling. Now you just roll over and finish that nice dream you were having, and never mind us if we start singing the Pimpa theme song at the top of our lungs, banging metal spatulas on pots and pans, and break-dancing on your head.


  1. I have always wanted to start a word/phrase. I mean, SOMEONE has to have said something first! My brain is full today but I expect we could come up with some over Christmas. I have the perfect target now too, a foreigner - awesome!!! xxx

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  3. I am occasionally an abstract fussiness victim. Or perpetrator? I say victim... (I'm obviously not ready to take responsibility for my AF.)

  4. Sharon, I'm sure there are lots of expressions unique to the family clan. Let's make a list next time I see you. :)

  5. Dear Jess, yes I think "abstract fussiness" is a truly useful phrase to describe something many of us suffer from. And if we're suffering, I guess that makes us 'victims'!