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Household Words

Household Words

If your house is like my house, you have some words that only mean what they mean within your home. Let me give you three examples from Don’s domicile.

1. Froggy-finger chicken (noun)

We have a recipe for chicken that’s been a household favorite for years. It involves dredging chicken breasts in flour, then coating them with slightly diluted beaten eggs, and then rolling each in a mixture of bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese before frying. This process invariably results in flour, egg, and breading accumulating on the tips of your fingers. Your hands end up looking like frog hands. So, of course, we call this recipe froggy-finger chicken.

But that name only exists at my house. I never see froggy-finger chicken on a restaurant menu, in a cookbook, or on any cooking show.

2. Room 47 (noun)

Decades ago, when the firm I worked for was moving our office from Ridge Avenue to a larger space in the old, Clark candy factory, my colleague, Doris, organized the move. To ensure efficiency, she numbered each space in the new office and labeled all our possessions so the movers could put everything exactly where it belonged in the new space. The extra space in the back corner that collected odds and ends that didn't really have an appropriate home in the new space was designated Room 47. That name stuck. For years afterward, Room 47 remained a closed space where objects could be concealed. A space that contained a plethora of strange junk—all of it useless but too valuable to throw away.

Today, here at our house, we have a small storage closet in our basement crammed with holiday decorations, ancient typewriters, jigsaw puzzles, costumes, and much more. Naturally, that space is called Room 47. 

3. Mr. Hobbs (verb)

In the mid 1970s, Karen and I foolishly attempted to renovate an old row house in Philadelphia. During the demolition phase we needed to get rid of broken plaster, lath, ancient pipes, rat skeletons, and all the other moldy mysteries that accumulate in a damp basement over the centuries. The answer was Mr. Hobbs—a quiet, lanky, gent in overalls who owned an old stake-bed truck. 

A stake-bed truck is simple. Behind the driver's cab there is a big, flat surface surrounded by a fence. Stake-bed trucks are used to haul big loads of unusual shape. Mr. Hobbs and his crew were artists at packing their truck. They emptied room after room of debris and squeezed everything into a towering pile on the truck. Then they disappeared. Magicians.

Imagine our relief as the oppressive, disgusting, stinking detritus of centuries of urban living simply vanished. Swept away by the angel, Mr. Hobbs. Miraculous. 

Fifty years later, here at our house, Mr. Hobbs has become a verb meaning the miraculous disappearance of any evil. Furry mystery in the vegetable bin? I Mr. Hobbs'd it. 

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There are more. Someday, if you are interested, I'll tell you about unk, yuggies, scatterbareebus, and cementitious desserts. 

What terms does your family use that only have meaning at your house?

Don—Pittsburgh, December 1, 2021

Comments on this post (56)

  • Dec 28, 2021

    When my son was small, he had “wascally wabbit syndrome” (trouble pronouncing his r’s), so we had any number of funny family words. He also had some hearing loss due to many ear infections. Some of his words that come to mind are “patty-ho” (where Dad barbecues), “bobo” for elbow, and because his dad had allergy and sinus issues and regularly used a nasal spray, the nasal spray became simply the “nose.” To this day (and my son is now 49), his dad will tell me he needs to get a refill on the “nose.”

    — Mary C Gouveia

  • Dec 28, 2021

    When my daughter was little, she called air conditioners “hickerdissers”. When it starts getting warm in the summer, my husband still says: “It’s time to turn on the hickerdisser.”

    — Tulle

  • Dec 10, 2021

    A factory: my late father’s term for a dish of leftovers shoved to the back of the refrigerator. So called because it made things I.e. mold.

    — Jackie Keys

  • Dec 10, 2021

    Unidentifiable, linty-type stuff or crumbs of unknown origin = greebles.
    Crushed chips at the bottom of the bag = crubble.

    — JUDY CLIFFORD

  • Dec 08, 2021

    My daughter would call Mozzarella Cheese, Cinderella Cheese and when my son was little, he would ask for " Boys and berries jam" (Boysenberry of course) My children are all grown but these names stuck. :)

    — Stephanie

  • Dec 07, 2021

    When my 5-year-old daughter eyed her plate of food and suspiciously stated that those bits looked like onions and she didn’t like onions, my husband quickly blurted out, “No they’re not!” Then he followed with the first thing he could think of on the spot, which was, “They’re rignons!” We were shocked when she accepted this word and calmly cleaned her plate! Thirty years later and they are still rignons in our house.
    Flifter is that utensil that you use in the frying pan and you can’t decide whether to call it a flipper or a lifter.
    My in-laws always called the cupboard where you keep the liquor The Arsenal.
    My Mum-in-love called whatchamacallits “doo-ies “.

    — Kathen

  • Dec 07, 2021

    When my daughter was little she had trouble sleeping, so we named the backrest lounge pillow on the bed the “big mamma” which gave her much comfort. Our whole family called it this, and it helped her sleep. Fast forward to her freshman move in day at the local university. She pulled out the backrest and asked if any of her 3 roomates had brought with them a “big mamma”. She was met with puzzled silence, and called me later to let me know that none of them knew what that was! I just had to chuckle at that one…

    — Debby

  • Dec 07, 2021

    Betty’s Room. The junk room you tell people not to go into by saying “Don’t go in there. It’s Betty’s room and she’s a terrible hoarder.”
    We had an antique sideboard in our dining room that for unknown reasons got christened Aunt Sadie!

    — Annie

  • Dec 06, 2021

    What is it with funny family names for chicken recipes? :) Ours is for a delicious chicken in creamy leek sauce served over noodles that we call “Farfetched”, which was christened back in the days when my kids were obsessed with Pokemon. There was a Pokemon critter called Farfetched (a chicken-like bird holding leeks that it used to defend itself) and it just seemed natural as well as in keeping with my family’s somewhat ghoulish sense of humor to say, when that particular dish was on the menu, “we’re having Farfetched for supper.”

    — Marissa

  • Dec 06, 2021

    My daughter’s senior year of high school her car was totaled in the school parking lot by a girl, Lauren, racing through the lot across the parking spaces. My daughter was where she was supposed to be, as we had discussed this being a no no after she did it with mom in the car a few days prior, and then crash. Both cars totaled. So now…
    Verb- doing a Lauren is driving through the parking lot across the spaces.

    — Pam

  • Dec 04, 2021

    To “Branson” someone (verb) is to instigate or enthusiastically join a shopping trip or dinner out, but when it comes time to pay, realize you’ve forgotten your wallet, and therefore must sheepishly rely on your companions to foot the bill. An affectionate reference to a dear gentleman of that name. His friends have paid dearly through the years, but find him a worthwhile investment.

    — Nat

  • Dec 04, 2021

    Growing up my only grandparents were Mammie and Papa. Mammie had a way of cooking potatoes that we’d never had before. They were basically just sliced and cooked with lots of butter after they were drained but we thought they were special To this day we still call this way of cooking potatoes (Mammie potatoes). My son is 41 and text me a year or so ago to ask how to fix Mammie potatoes. 😊 She also had a Mammie cabinet. My cousin passed a few years ago and I don’t know where that cabinet is but it was always the Mammie cabinet. We had a Papa’s desk drawer that was always filled with candy. Only us special grandkids could get in that drawer with permission from Papa of course. Memories that last a lifetime. ♥️

    — Sue

  • Dec 04, 2021

    Yes, “blow the stink off” is still used = get outside, moving, go somewhere.

    — Julie Mason

  • Dec 04, 2021

    I love everyone’s stories! We have lots of family words, too. One is when the cat(s) get jungle-snakey. I’m sure I don’t even need to describe what that is—when they act that way, you know! When I was a kid, and we’d ask my Dad if we could do something or go somewhere, he inevitably said, “Dick Wilkinson.” I never met Dick Wilkinson, but it was my Dad’s way of hedging—meaning, “We’ll see.” And probably the most-used family phrase we have is the Pewter Pepper Mill. Back when we were young, newly-married and impecunious, we treated ourselves to buying a lovely pepper mill, and at every party and gathering we proudly ground pepper for all. Then one day, it vanished. Totally. When we moved out of that apartment, it was rented to friends of ours. They looked for it, too. Many theories abound as to the cause of the disappearance, but in any case, forever after when something cannot be found, it has gone to live with the Pewter Pepper Mill.

    — Cloudy Rockwell

  • Dec 04, 2021

    We grew up with a “possible drawer” (junk drawer) because it was “possible” to find anything in it. I have two now.
    Later, upon cooking for family I coined “it’s a cobbler” (usually dessert but not necessarily) for any recipe that did not come out looking as expected. It all began with a cake recipe that did not release from the pan and came out in pieces. It tasted fine but did not look good or as pictured.
    Early in my marriage, I would ask my husband if he liked a new recipe I had tried. He, trying to be loving and supportive, would say yes. So I’d make it again and eventually he would say “are we having this again?” LOL So we came up with the code word “keeper”. If the recipe was good it was a keeper and if not no hurt feelings but I wouldn’t make it again.

    — Toby Pennell

  • Dec 04, 2021

    When my late husband and I were first married almost 50 years ago, I made no bake oatmeal cookies. He instantly called them fat and heavies, as they would were a heavy cookie and would make you fat. He called them that from then on. Fast forward to 3 children later, oldest daughter was in home ec and they were making these cookies. She declares oh we are making Fat and Heavies, not realizing no one else knew that term outside of our home. No one knew what she was talking about and all she got was silence. From then on they didn’t use names her father called anything as they never knew what was real and what wasn’t. We laugh about this now.

    — donna allinger

  • Dec 04, 2021

    There are a few. When we say something is “beauty blue” we know exactly what color we are talking about. “Squinky” means that’s great!! “Put on a sleeve or I need a sleeve.” Put on a sweater. I know there are more but it almost 3 in the morning. But this was fun to read!!

    — Trisha

  • Dec 04, 2021

    I hope we see this very cool frog on some merchandise soon!

    — Joanna

  • Dec 03, 2021

    My mother used to tell us kids, when she felt we should go outside and play, to “Go outside and get the stink blown off”. I’ve never heard anyone one use that phrase.

    Our family station wagon was in an accident once and my father decided it got hit because it was a dark forest green and couldn’t be easily seen at night . When it was repaired, he had it painted a bright, turquoise green that made heads turn. (It was never in an accident again, so his plan worked.) We all call that particular color “car green” to this day, decades later.

    My son will occasionally request that I cook “that dish you make.” We all know exactly what he wants for dinner.

    — Laura

  • Dec 03, 2021

    Shrubbage – the haulers call it Yard Debris, but that’s too cumbersome and clinical for our house.

    — suzy

  • Dec 03, 2021

    Exploding chicken – Barber’s frozen chicken Kiev breasts, which my little kids loved. These kids, now in college, still love how the hot butter spurts out when they’re done. The name has stuck in our house to the point that when we’re at the grocery, I might tell one of them to go get a few boxes of exploding chicken. We forget that others who overhear that might be appalled.

    — Sally Smith

  • Dec 03, 2021

    The random game
    This game starts with 2 people at least it can always have more, the point of the game is to keep up with the random ness. We start with one thing and the next person adds on. Example: talk starts about a sock that leads to another story that has something random that can relate to it and it continues. Sometimes there are sounds, always laughter. My husband often gets frustrated as he doesn’t always understand where we are going with it. I think the game has some mind reading involved. Which having lived with these humans for so long tends to happen. Alot of times it’s just funny to hear my husband say “What are you guys talking about? (silent uggh escapes him)”.
    Thanks for the stories you share, I have found so much Joy in the dishes and the true self you share in your creations. The signed card and note last year was such a gift of human kindness.

    — Teri Benge

  • Dec 03, 2021

    Make that John Prine song.

    — ESC

  • Dec 03, 2021

    Tushy Toaster — heated seats in the car are Tushy toasters. Best add on EVER invented. Sub zero weather is almost bearable.

    — Lealie

  • Dec 03, 2021

    Ortnum-Decluttering so that a space/table top is usable.

    Carco-This was the name of the family cat when i was growing up and the idea was that you would yell the cat’s name (“Carco!”)after tasting something horrible so that you could lick the cat’s ass to get the taste our of your mouth.

    — Harry J Mersmann

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