Just about every family has a word that makes sense only to them. Said by children, weird uncles, or parents in the heat of the moment, these words were coined when someone goofed … and yet somehow for these families they stuck.
There’s even an official term for this phenomenon: malapropism, a noun that means “an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.”
So, how do these words come into being? And, how are they used? We asked Dictionary.com fans to share some of their favorite family malapropisms and explain their backstories.
Some words enter our lexicon because they describe a sound they make. Think of words like cuckoo, meow, or boom. They sound like what they are, right? This is what lexicographers call onomatopoeia, and it’s given rise to plenty of “words” that folks use at home:
Splurk, from the sound a specific, stove top prepared meal made when emptied into a serving dish.
— Judy P. O'Toole (@iloarainbow) May 4, 2018
If you’ve ever combined two words together to make another, you’ve created a portmanteau, a term that means “a word made by putting together parts of other words.” Portmanteaus such as cronut (croissant and donut) and spork (spoon and fork) are sometimes added to the dictionary, while others remain family (and friend) inside jokes:
— Vanessa Sheehan (@OnlyPinfeathers) May 4, 2018
My friend in high school used to say bull-fa-lon-y for when she was irked.
I like to think it's a mix of "bull farts" and "bologna". https://t.co/97R4zb4fq8
— Tipsy Panda (@TheTipsyPanda) May 4, 2018
My 2.5-year-old son just invented "rainbrella"… self-explanatory! I'm gonna run with it 🌂🌂🌧🌧
— Ann Marie Boulanger (@TradProteus) May 4, 2018
When my son was little, he’d say, “lasterday”. Not yesterday, but the day before yesterday.
— JediPancakes Ⓥ 🕉🌱🌸 (@Jedigrl99) May 4, 2018
Purely nonsense (in the best way possible)
Sometimes, the words we make up make no sense at all. They’re simply fun to say. And, that’s OK—no one is judging you here!
If you’ve ever sat down and tried to pronounce a “normal” word over and over and over again, it probably started to sound pretty silly after the seventh or eighth repetition, didn’t it? Science even has a name for that—verbal satiation.
These words are all silly, and yet they do their job just as well as those with more formal constructions: They communicate a meaning, at least to those members of the family who understand them.
“Shashas” — it’s when you gently brush your fingertips across ones skin, most commonly the back or arms as a way to help them relax.
— Rose (@petitchatrimes) May 4, 2018
Moose odor. Way back when our friends’ child was little, she couldn’t correctly pronounce “move over”, and she always said “moose odor”. 30+ years later, we still say “moose odor” to each other, and we all know the meaning.
— tntfox (@tntfox) May 4, 2018
Goinkle is a cement mixer trunk, of course.
— (((Patrice Cronin))) (@pmcronin) May 4, 2018
Mussbetty for dinner!
— Vesuvia Adelia (@VesuviaAdelia) May 4, 2018
I guess I should expand on Bubbonia….it's the kingdom that our dog Bubba came from. He was the King of Bubbonia so we are required to wait on him. Yes, he's pretty darn spoiled!
— Amiga (@WienerDawgsRule) May 4, 2018
Doody-doot. The cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper, paper towels, gift wrap, etc.
— Brian Smith (@AmbientRelish) May 4, 2018
Check out Dictionary.com’s Twitter page for more fun malapropisms, and share your own!