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Writer offers a 'snibble' of her family's vocabulary

Do you use certain phrases in your home that sound crazy to anyone outside your own immediate family members?

Adding strange words to our personal vocabulary first started with a Dennis the Menace cartoon back when my two sons were preschoolers. In it, a toy-store clerk - fists on hips - stands glaring at Dennis' parents who, in turn, stare aghast at their son holding the detached tail of the store's hobby horse.

Dennis defensively says, "All I did was holler 'Whoa!' and the tail just fell off."

Well, those dozen words became our household phrase to disclaim responsibility for any kind of accident.

My sons now have children of their own, but to this day - whenever one of us breaks a dish, pulls a gate off its hinges or is holding the platter when the turkey slides onto the tablecloth - the culprit invariably prates, "I just hollered 'Whoa!' and the tail fell off," and everyone else in the room knowingly nods uh-huh in unison.

Another of our household phrases resulted from the moth-eaten story of the little girl whose parents gave her two quarters: "One is for you to put into the collection plate at Sunday school and the other is for you to keep." However, on her walk to church, one coin slipped and rolled into the grating.

"Oops!" she said. "There went God's quarter."

Lawrence and I - figuratively at least - still use that phrase, such as the other morning when he carried two warm cinnamon rolls to the breakfast table, and one gooey buttery bun slipped from the plate and onto the floor. "Oops," he said (in jest). "There went yours!"

Sometimes it's not a phrase, but a single word. For us, "Melbourne!" is that word.Why? In heading home after a vacation in Australia, Lawrence did not see me enter that airport's restroom and, assuming I'd already proceeded to the plane, that's where he went.

When I came out with him nowhere in sight. I panicked. Finally, after he realized that I couldn't get through security because he was carrying all our identification, as well as both our tickets, cell phones, passports and money, he returned and found me in near meltdown.

Now, merely saying "Melbourne" means "Stick close - don't get out of sight!"

That happened several years ago, but it was just yesterday we suddenly came upon a school bus with its black warning-arms extended.

"Stop!" I shouted. "Its flapper-dappers are out!" Flapper-dappers can now mean ears on a vase, kettle handles, mail-box flags…

Other words and phrases meaningful inside the Torrey household but senseless to outsiders:

"Lawrence refers to a wall picture, hanging askew, as being "cocky-waddle."

"My asking him for a "snibble" means a tiny nibble of whatever he's eating.

"Last month's bad weather was "snizzly" (part rain, part snow).

But my favorite word is interesting. "Interesting" can be trusted anytime, anyplace. Interesting never offends. It's a perfect term to keep tucked away for any prickly occasion.

For example, if you dislike someone's new outfit, you can enthusiastically exclaim, "What an interesting (design, color, shape)!" and its wearer is delighted. Ditto with your hostess' food, front yard, pets, wallpaper, whatever.

The important part is making whatever you say sound convincing.

I once asked a pastor his secret of charming every mother who proudly showed him her newborn. His answer: "I smile, exclaim 'Wow, that IS a baby!' and Mom beams. Works every time."

As I said upfront: Is it just my family? Or do you have pet words/phrases in yours that no one else understands? Would you share them with me and others in a future column? If so, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

© Copyright 2014 by Isabel Torrey, a King City resident and long-time columnist.