It’s just a phrase…

Do you have special words and phrases in your family?  Things that mean something to you but leave strangers scratching their heads in puzzlement?  Some are passed from parents to children, some are born of experiences shared. 

One such word from my childhood was pronounced something like “mootsy”.  It meant to mix/crumble/smoosh something with your hands.  When my mother made meat loaf, or some such meal, I would sometimes have the honour of mootsying all the ingredients together before it was formed into a loaf.  The more you squished and squeezed it round and through your fingers the better.  To mootsy was not good, however, when you were supposed to be eating something and you were just playing with it – in such a  case you were told to stop mootsying – it became synonymous with making a mess.  I have no idea what the history of the word in the family was, whether it came from another language and filled a gap that nothing in English would fit, or whether it was a nonsense word adapted to use. 

Other words and phrases had a clear history. 

I started to read very early.  I loved reading (and still do), and read anything I could get a hold of.  This posed a great problem to my kindergarten teacher.  She was trying to teach a roomful of kids the alphabet, and – as she put it – I was reading Time magazine and understanding it.  She was always looking for something to keep me busy and not bored.  (She also learned never to leave anything out when she left the room… I would run to her desk and read aloud anything there – lesson plans, school announcements – for the entertainment and enlightenment of my kindergarten classmates.)  Naptime was another challenge, I hated to take naps.  So their solution was to plop a chair in the middle of all the cots, plop me on the chair with a book, and I would happily read a story aloud to all the other kids as they fell asleep.  Then I would spend the time reading quietly until my friends woke up again.  Worked for me.

Anyway.  Since I was often reading material way above my age level, I encountered many words I didn’t understand.  My parents bought me some lovely notebooks and a basic dictionary, and when I found a word I didn’t know I was to look it up, write down the definition in the notebook, and use it in a sentence.  Then I would show my parents what I wrote.  Many, many years later my mom unearthed one of these notebooks and we had a wonderful time reading it.  It has since disappeared, perhaps it will be found again in the boxes saved from my parents’ house.  Most of the sentences were simple and straightforward, although there were a few glitches in understanding here and there.  (When I first read the word “pregnant”, I didn’t know what it meant, and when I looked it up the dictionary said “Carrying a child”… my sentence was “The fireman went up the ladder and came down pregnant.”  Made sense to me.) 

One word in my notebook took on an entire new meaning for our family.  While reading, I came across the word “frugal”.  I thought it was a very silly word, but I dutifully looked it up.  The dictionary definition was “economical”.  OK, I was six, I didn’t know what that was either.  So I looked that up as well, and the definition was “saving”.  Aha!  Finally a word I knew!  So my sentence was “The boy was drowning, and the lifeguard frugalled him.”    

Forever after, when someone in our family needed help with something, you could hear the cry “Frugal me! Frugal me!”

Today, I don’t hear “mootsy”, except when I use it.  But when I encounter the word “frugal” in any setting, now matter how serious, I have to smile.   Because in my family it had a secret meaning.


2 Responses to “It’s just a phrase…”

  1. C Says:

    My brother and I have a word: boyaca, that means literally (to us…) “boy I’m sure glad we didn’t go to the library.” As if that made any sense, it has transformed into an even weirder form of communication for us. Nowdays, I’ll say “Boyaca, my brother,” meaning: I’m with you.

    And no, we were not crack babies! lol

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