About 30 years ago, my eldest daughter was about 3 or 4. She was standing out in our garden, staring very intently and pointing at one of the bushes in the flowerbeds, and out came that little pearl. We both looked at what she was staring, and could see absolutely nothing. She was of the age when she was just getting the hang of speech, so the words which were being learnt were changing each day. Most of them were the results of the infant mind struggling to get something new and remarkable out for the first time, but you could see that most of them were clear attempts to copy the words we all use. All of a sudden however, we were in virgin English territory with this one. What on earth did she mean?
The way ones children, and now in our case grandchildren, come to terms with language is quite entrancing. I suspect our family is not alone in that several of the odd and priceless words which appear at these early ages have become part of a private family vocabulary, almost a code which is known only to immediate close relatives.
Now, 30 odd years later, when someone in the family points to something which no-one else can see, or no-one knows what it is, it is greeted by the simple response that “It’s a natlob”. We all know what it means, which is what communication is all about, but the price you pay is that everyone else around who’s outside the family thinks we’re nuts.
A few days later on from the natlob, another one appeared out of the blue. This time it was a “lunt”. We don’t know what was either, and still don’t.
Fast forward thirty years, and the youngest grandchildren are at the same stage, and more words are being collected into the private vocabulary. Sometimes they are the result of mispronunciation which when you hear it, actually sounds better to us than the real English word. In our family, the bird which displays the beautiful plume of blue feathers is known as a “peapock”, not a “peacock”. And when you get hurt and get carted off to A&E, we go to the “Hopsickle”, and not the “Hospital”.
These words just sound better to us than the real ones, so we use them.
My wife is now referred to by all the Grandchildren as “Ranna”, which was the first effort of Grandchild 1 to form the word “Grandma”. It has stuck with us all for all their lives, and Grandchildren 2 and 3 now also use it. My youngest grandchild has a slight lisp which sounds lovely. When he saw Milly, our youngest dog, his first attempt to speak her name came out as “Mirrie”. So what do we do? Milly’s name is now Mirrie. I’m not sure the dog understands, but we all refer to her by this revised name.
One of the grandchildren rushed in a few years ago to us, put one of his toys in our hands, with the urgent call of “Bassawendi”. We thought he’d been watching a documentary about some African tribe on the television, but there was nothing on the TV we could see that was remotely relevant. This phrase became part of his vocabulary and, as he played with his toys, once in a while, out came the call – “Bassawendi”. None of us could make any sense of it, and we all racked our brains to decipher what it meant. Of course, one day it all came clear. We were all watching TV with him, and “Bob the Builder” was on. All of a sudden on the programme, the Postman came on and handed a letter to Bob’s sidekick, Wendy. Out came the cry from our grandchild - “Bassawendi”.
Ah, we all thought as the penny simultaneously dropped in all our minds - “It’s a parcel for Wendy!” was what the postman actually said. So now, when the postman comes to our house, the cry is simple – “Bassawendi”. Silly but, there you are.
We should probably all write these down and record them for posterity. They only mean anything to half a dozen people, but they form a real family bond and part of a secret history, which can be very important. We all look back at our offspring’s childhood, and we’re (or at least I am) always amazed at the things we have forgotten. My children’s upbringing is littered with stretches of time where my memory is a blank or a fuzz. Now that may be my brain just dropping these things off the memory hooks, but when occasionally we all talk about these things and someone remembers a long forgotten episode, it always brings a simple glow of pleasure to us.
And, given what’s going on in the world, that can’t be bad.