I was thinking about my grandparents this morning. In particular, I was thinking about how both of my grandmothers had some interesting idiosyncrasies in their respective vocabularies: things I heard each of them say all the time, but have never heard anyone else say, ever.
I was fortunate as a kid to live in the same town as both sets of my grandparents. I got to see them a lot. My dad’s parents watched me daily while my parents were at work, from the time I was a baby until I entered sixth grade. And we saw my mom’s parents at least weekly.
As many kids probably do, I identified my grandparents not by name, but by a distinguishing characteristic that resonated with my developing brain. In this case, the colors of their houses. So my dad’s parents (the Andersons) were “green grandma and grandpa” and my mom’s parents (the Madsons) were “white grandma and grandpa.” I realize now that a stranger hearing me talk about “white grandma” out of context would probably interpret the meaning in an entirely different way.
I lost all four of my grandparents within a decade, from 1991 (when I was a senior in high school) to 2001. But their memories live on in all of the experiences I shared with them, and especially in the quirky ways that my grandmothers used to speak. Here are some of my favorites. (I’ll probably revisit this post over time and add more as I remember them.)
Bourgeois — a euphemism for “bullshit.” My grandma’s father was French, which is probably where she picked up the term. I had no idea what she was actually saying, but whenever someone needed to be called on their BS, she’d give them a nice friendly “bushwa.” (Grandma Madson)
Breakfast food — cereal. All cereal is breakfast food, but not all breakfast food is cereal. Except to my grandma. (Grandma Anderson)
Davenport — a couch or sofa. I know my grandma was not unique in using this term, but “davenport” is definitely the “RC Cola” of names for this particular piece of furniture. (Grandma Anderson)
Forth and back — back and forth. I have to admit, my grandma actually had a pretty compelling argument for this one: “You have to go forth before you can go back.” Indeed. (Grandma Anderson)
Frigidaire — a refrigerator. There are plenty of brand names that become synonymous with what they are (Kleenex, for instance), but my grandma was one of the few people who did this with kitchen appliances. (Grandma Anderson)
House slippers — umm… as if you’d wear them anywhere else? Strangely, both of my grandmothers used this phrase, so maybe it was a generational thing.
Parasol — an umbrella. Once upon a time people used parasols on a regular basis, and they actually did differ from umbrellas in construction, if not so much in design. But as the parasol has fallen out of favor, I would guess that most people now use “umbrella” as an (excuse me for this) umbrella term for both. But for my grandma it was the other way around. (Grandma Anderson)
Warsh your head — again, I know my grandma was far from the only person to say “warsh” instead of “wash,” but I don’t know anyone else who would say “head” instead of “hair.” She also said “warsh your teeth” but considering she wore dentures it probably made a little more sense. (Grandma Anderson)
Wrath of God — unsightly physical appearance. As in, “I look like the wrath of God,” said when my grandma did not feel that she was properly made up to leave the house. (Grandma Madson)