Funky Family Phrases



The Sick Canary Theory and The Volkswagen Theory

At one point in my life I heard these phrases everyday and thought everyone knew them.

When my mother was young, her parents told her she could get a bird. In the store, she picked out the sickest of the lot because she felt sorry for it and wanted to help it. The thing promptly died after she got it home, leaving my mom bird-less.

The Sick Canary Theory described any situation where we bought or otherwise got attached to something or someone broken, thinking we could fix or save it (like a slacker boyfriend). Pain resulted for both the sucker who chose the bird and the sick canary the sucker wasn’t equipped to help.

We also had The Volkswagen Theory. In this my mother said she would never own one of those goofy beetle bug cars with the engine in the back (Apologies to bug owners everywhere. I happen to like those round rumbling cars).

Of course, one day we got a Volkswagen that ran so well even Mom admitted it was a fine vehicle. So if we ever said we would never do or have something (like in an anti-bucket list) we’d always say, “Ah-ah-ah! Remember The Volkswagen Theory!”

When I studied linguistics in school, I discovered that within languages there are many variations. A popular quiz like this one in the New York Times fairly accurately pinpoints the region you are from based on the words you use and how you pronounce them.

I remember in those classes the professors and studies I read said that people even develop speech styles within their own families. You might notice this when meeting a brother or sister of someone you’ve known for a long time. I was thinking of this scholarly reason when I came up with the idea for this post on my own family’s funky phrases.

Aside from our phrases, we had crazy fun names of cars: Creepy Cream for the Chevy Nova, Blue Beast for the Ford Grenada,Blueberry for the Honda CRX my dad drove all over the state, and Buttercup for the Volkswagen dasher that broke mom’s anti-VW will.

How about you? What things do you say in your family that only your family ‘gets?’ Maybe we were alone in our idiosyncratic speech. Somehow I’d doubt that, and  I’d love to know your family’s word stories.

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