The use of colorful language runs in our family. Not the colorful sort that seems to rage rampant in print and behind those bleeps on television. I mean expressive without being offensive. My grandfather Espy, for instance was pretty famous for never swearing but for getting his point across, nevertheless.
“Dad burn it!” I’d hear him say. Or maybe “Dad gum it!” and I knew he was more than a little frustrated about something. Sometimes it was “Son of a sea cook!” or “Consarn it!” or perhaps “Ding Bust it!” But the ultimate in epithets from Papa was “Devil!” and, lest you think those are all pretty tame, you had to be there. As those of us who knew him well remember, those words came bursting from his mouth like thunderbolts! Not often, but certainly memorable.
My mother’s colorful speech was a bit different from her father’s. She wasn’t substituting the acceptable for the unacceptable. Far from it. She was simply being her usual, inimitable self. “She just wore me to a frazzle-dazzle one step” she often said after being cornered by a particularly irksome neighbor. Or, she was known to refer to women of questionable moral character as “woo woo girls” and when I’d asked one too many ‘why’ questions, “Why’s a hen” was the only answer she’d give me. Or when she was wanting me to make up my own mind: “You’re the doctor; I’m only the nurse.”
Too, there were many stories about my Aunt Mona’s childhood expressions – words that became part of the family lexicon. “I piddly stimbled!” was what we all said after almost falling down. It must have been young Mona’s way of saying, “I practically stumbled.” The best Mona-ism, though, is what I say to this day when I’m refusing seconds after a big dinner: “My shimmy shirt and pants are full” – Mona’s little girl understanding of the colloquialism, ‘my sufficiency is sophonsified.’
My son, Charlie, was also inventive word-wise. He worried that the water in the bathtub might overfloat, and once commented on his well-endowed grandmother as being volumptuous. My all-time favorite, though, was his three-year-old answer to “What do you call it when two people sing the same song at the same time?” “A coincidence,” came his prompt reply! Spot on, say I!