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Fam-Speak

01/26/05 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) As commentator Caleb Daniloff observes, families tend to create their own vernacular. And the words they use say a lot about who they are.


(DANILOFF) The other day, after saying something incredibly foolish to my wife and then stubbornly standing behind my words, she gave me what has become known in our house as her Budget Frank Eyes.

It's a penetrating look that could melt tires. Coal black eyes, lips pinched ever so slightly, jaw set. No choice but to back down. That's the power of her Budget Franks.

"And I didn't even give you my full Franks," she laughed later.

Budget Frank Eyes is part of our personal vernacular, the secret linguistic code that develops between intimates, among families. It connects us to an experience and to each other. Crack open these mini dialects and you'll find the stories that bind.

Ours began a couple months ago at a Budget truck rental. We needed to haul a computer hutch back to Vermont. I called that morning and was told, yes, our cargo van was waiting. When we showed up, there was no van. Only a short man named Frank with slicked-back hair and a burnt-orange tan, dressed more like an entry-level financier. He flipped through his clipboard, typed something into two different computers, went into a back room, then came out. He told us it must have been accidentally let go during a shift change. Apparently, there is a shift change mid-morning. You can use the 24-foot truck, he said. It'll still get the job done.

The thing about Budget Frank was he had these incredible eyes, crystal blue diamonds that had surely mesmerized many a soul. Since I tend to get distracted by bright and shiny things, I was already envisioning myself in the cab of the big rig with a precocious chimpanzee riding shotgun. So what if the computer hutch was ten times smaller than the cargo space and we had to drive over two mountain passes.

My wife's not so simple. She locked her eyes on Frank's Bombay Sapphires as he tried to tell us we'd showed up late. I don't think she blinked once. The pressure became so great I thought his eyes would shatter. Within seconds, Frank was apologizing. Thus the birth of Budget Frank Eyes.

Such invention is the purest form of oral history. Incidents and people become nouns, verbs and adjectives, linguistic landmarks in our lives. Words have always been our primary interpreters of emotion, memory and the unknown. Nothing can go unnamed.

When the ancient Greeks came upon foreign explorers, the language they heard sounded like "bar, bar, bar." So they invented the word "barbaros" to mean "foreign, strange or outlandish." It has since evolved into "barbarian."

Fast forward 2500 years. When our 12-year-old perceives the drone of a lecture, she simply says, "crickets," suggesting a field of silence into which our sentences are falling. Or she might "pop a narco," and feign a deep, slack-jawed sleep.

My wife and I delight in this homemade linguistic stew and are forever stirring the pot. We apply mission-like urgency to the mundane. Conversations are "convos." Orangutans are "O-Tangs." The topic of this "c-tary" is "fam-speak." Our words and phrases are constantly evolving. Budget Frank Eyes is now mostly just "Franks." Who knows what it'll be next month.

It's sometimes easy to forget that words are living, breathing vessels. They issue from our bodies, reflecting who we are and where we've been. They literally give meaning to our lives. But only our lives can give meaning to theirs.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter, book reviewer and freelance journalist.
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