Our Secret Language

Does your family, or group of friends have your own unique language? I’ve noticed as the kids have gotten older, we’ve developed our own mostly, unsurprisingly, around food. I can’t help but smile whenever I think about them, especially out of context, so I thought it would be fun to share a bit of our family language, with equal parts curiosity as to what other people call things. Does anyone else speak our language?

  1. Panic Cheese – Several of our made-up words revolve around cheese… which comes as zero surprise to me. This specific term came about last summer when we took a family trip to Italy. After a long and slightly tumultuous drive from Florence to¬† Tuscany, we headed to the grocery store for previsions for our self-catered accommodations, hitting the shop around lunchtime. What was intended to be a ‘quick shop’ turned into an hour plus process as we roamed the aisles, using our context clues and my rusty Spanish to decipher what things were. Given we were in Tuscany so we wanted to make the most of it by choosing as many local products as possible; a task that was made only more difficult when attempting to use google translator and wild gesticulation to communicate with locals, over the growls and complaints of two hungry girls in close proximity. By the end of the trip including a lengthy miscommunication with the man behind the deli counter the girls were a total mess – hungry, tired and bored. On a whim I grabbed a pack of pre-sliced cheese and made a beeline for the checkout, tearing the pack open before we had even made it back to the car, handing slices to the girls. Thus the name panic cheese was born, and so it shall remain, as it continues to be asked for by name during our weekly grocery shop.
  2. Emergency leaves (notice how all of our names come out of the same emotional state?) This is what adults refer to as a dinner salad, but it is basically say-what-you-see emergency leaves. Now that both children are in school full time, they never fail to come home ravenous to the point of hangry after school- and there is no worse hangry in my opinion than that of an already ‘spirited’ four-year-old. One afternoon in the middle of a cacophony of angry cat sounds and pounding fists, I pulled two small bowls out of the cupboards and threw a large handful of baby spinach leaves in them alongside a dollop of ranch dressing, putting the bowls in front of the girl’s gaping-with-hunger fishy faces. They both got quiet (result!) and all I could hear for the next ten minutes was crunching and chewing, buying me enough time to throw together a decent dinner whilst being able to hear myself think (and give a little pat on the back for having gotten in some pre-dinner veg). You call it a dinner salad- we call it emergency leaves. Same difference.
  3. Chocolate Overdover Cake (pronounced ‘uh-ver-duh-ver’) This one isn’t a recent invention at all, rather one that brings me back to being around ten years old, attempting to tackle a ‘cooking project’ with my three-year-old sister. (Side Note: I’ve read that for those who are struggling to figure out what career they should go into- thinking back to their interests around the time of age 7-10 helps to give insight into what people are genuinely interested in. It has taken me a few tries in my own career path, but food, for me, has always been in the forefront in some way- even if I didn’t know it at the time). As you can imagine, attempting to split the difference between a three-year-old’s and a ten year old’s interests and abilities, makes for quite the challenge. I think my mother was probably quite desperate, as she pulled out a box of graham crackers and a a packet of instant chocolate pudding. A bit of cracker splitting and pudding mixing later and we had a complete dish. Essentially a refrigerator cake made out of very 1990’s convenience items that somehow got the name Chocolate Overdover Cake. I don’t know if we’ve made it since my sister was out of diapers, but we continue to reference it whenever we meet up. A sign of true staying power.


In thinking about all of these instances, and others like them, I love the shorthand that develops over time within different relationships. The sense of shared history that marks a specific place and time.

Towards the end of high school/beginning of university my girlfriends did something a bit extraordinary given our age and interests – we kept a quote list. Not of inspirational quotes we had read or heard (though there were plenty of separate ‘inspiration’ notebooks floating around as well), but excerpts from our experiences together. We even went so far as developing an end-of-summer tradition where we would print off the lists of quotes, gather around a table at our favourite late-night diner, and read them aloud to each other, as we reminisced of all that had happened that year. Recently I dug up some of those printed off sheets at my parents house, printed on hot pink paper none the less. It made me so incredibly grateful to have those memories reignited, even if the strongest memory was not the situation from the extracted quote, but rather the efforts we would go to in order to preserve them.

A wise friend told me a few years ago it was worth keeping one notebook- just one- to fill with phrases the kids say when they are little and as they grow up. Nell was two when I started it- and I probably only write it in a few times a year, But it gives me the shorthand, the triggers which to take me back to a piece of history, shared with people I love. It may very well be the most valuable book I’ll ever own.

This is a time of year where there is a lot of emphasis on what memories we hope to create. There will be money forked out, plans stressed over and perfected, and piles of to-do lists created. I am just as guilty of getting caught up in the idea that with enough organisation and will power, I can coax the perfect family memory out of what has been nothing short of a year of absolute chaos. By looking back at the vocabulary that has been created out of moments of stress, improvisation and sheer willingness to make do, I hope it will help me to ease up on the reins and just enjoy or accept whatever comes next. So long as there are panic cheese provisions.






About The Author


Eat. Drink. Wander. Think. Write.

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