The other morning, I started to type out a tweet. It would eventually be this tweet, declaring my love for my iPhone 4, no matter its overhyped failings. But when I typed it, I typed “I’m glad Apple isn’t responding to this foofraff with a recall…” Then I stared at the word ‘foofraff’, which even as I type it now I hear in my father’s voice, in tones of exasperation. To me, it means “mess”. Used in a phrase: “all this foofraff!” But I wasn’t really sure, so I searched. No hits on Yahoo! Search for foofraff. None. On Google, one…in Polish. It seems not to mean anything in Polish either.
I called my dad. “Dad, I have a very unimportant question for you.”
“What does ‘foofraff’ mean?”
“Nothing, as far as I know. It’s one of those coined words with no particular meaning.”
“And who coined this word?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“It wasn’t by any chance…you?”
My father claims innocence, but how do you explain this nonsense word only he, I, and some person in Poland use? It isn’t the only one. The internet uses “smoorg” but I’m not sure it uses it in our familial sense of “mix together” (Dad says this is “smoog” and comes from the divine Pogo). I constantly have to define “feh” for Ryan (it’s short for “feculence”, obviously!) My dad makes up nicknames for everything from restaurants to electronics stores, and I’ve no doubt he’s gotten creative with slang and nonsense, too.
I also discovered during my brief flirtation with NaNoWriMo five years ago that a whole phylum of my father’s vocabulary came from an unexpected source. I was trying to shrug off my perfectionism by writing pulp. Of course, I started trying to write perfect pulp, and I researched my vocabulary accordingly. My favorite resource was Twists, Slug and Roscoes, which is where I found favored parental word glom and rarer birds like spondulix, as well as more common idioms like cheese it, dingus, hinky, and noodle (in the sense of “use your”). I use these words quite freely, and never realized I might sound like a “wise dame”.
Now sure, you may think that my dad just enjoyed a few issues of Ellery Queen’s in his formative years alongside his Amazing Stories. But perhaps this whole thing has been a linguistic experiment to set his children up with totally outlandish vocabularies. (Or make them play with language until they are compelled to become writers.) Sure, there are only a few examples here, but that’s the whole point: I won’t know how weird the words are until I use them in public.
Unlike Calvin’s Dad, my dad gave me full and, as far as science can be definitive, accurate particulars on why the sky is blue, when dinosaurs roamed, and why old photos are black and white. But his systematic campaign of linguistic misinformation is only now beginning to emerge!