Family Slang

Family Slang

The informal term family slang refers to words and phrases (neologisms) created, used, and generally understood only by the members of a family. Also called kitchen table lingo, family words, and domestic slang.

"A lot of these words," says Bill Lucas, a trustee of the English Project at Winchester University, "are inspired by the sound or the look of a thing, or are driven by an emotional response to that being described."


  • "Examples of this sort of vocabulary i.e., family slang or kitchen table lingo… include words for items for which no standard name exists, like Blenkinsop (a comical-sounding but authentic British family name) for the little tab which slides across the top of self-sealing plastic bags for refrigeration, or trunklements to describe 'bits and pieces, personal possessions.' Words which have moved into wider circulation such as helicopter and velcroid for intrusive parents or neighbors, howler for baby, and chap-esse for female probably originated in family usage." (Tony Thorne, Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, 4th ed. Bloomsbury, 2014)
  • Greebles and Twanger
    "If there was no word for a thing, Sally Wallace invented it: 'greebles' meant little bits of lint, especially those which feet brought into bed; 'twanger' was the word for something whose name you don't know or can't remember." (D.T. Max, "The Unfinished." The New Yorker, March 9, 2009)
  • Hotchamachacha!
    "One of my father's favorite words I've never heard on anyone else's lips: hotchamachacha! I imagine this began life as a conjuror's invocation, like abracadabra. My father uses it, though, to create a general sense of humorous mystification ('Am I going to get a chemistry set for my birthday, Daddy?"Hotchamachacha!'), or to pour scorn on what someone (usually me) is saying ('Come on--quick--seven nines!"Um… eighty-two?"Hotchamachacha!'), or to warn you urgently against doing something dangherooz." (Michael Frayn, My Father's Fortune: A Life. Metropolitan Books, 2010)
  • Kaboof
    "I'm 64 years old and ever since I can remember, we've called the area under stairs (the crawlspace) the kaboof." (Paula Pocius, Grammar & Composition blog, December 31, 2007)
  • Missmas Cards
    "Missmas Cards are those you send after receiving Christmas Cards from people to whom you would not have sent, and which will surely arrive at their destination after Christmas." (Tanja, Grammar & Composition blog, December 31, 2007)
  • Manniversary and Mundungus Drawer
    The Today program (Today, BBC Radio 4) asked its listeners to e-mail in their kitchen table lingo:
    • Manniversary: John Roser and his partner use this to describe their annual anniversary.
    • Mundungus Drawer: a drawer in Caroline Harris' kitchen where everything and anything lives.

Splosh, Gruds, and Frarping: Family Slang in Britain

"Linguists have published a new list of 'domestic' slang words which they say are now commonplace in British homes.

"Unlike some other slang, these words are used by people of all generations and are often used as a way to bond with other family members.

"According to the research, people are now more than likely to ask for splosh, chupley or blish when they fancy a cup of tea.

"And among the 57 new words identified meaning television remote control are blabber, zapper, melly and dawicki.

"The new words were published this week in the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang 2014, which examines the changing language of today's society…

"Other household slang used by families include grooglums, the bits of food left in the sink after washing up, and slabby-gangaroot, the dried ketchup left around the mouth of the bottle.
"The personal possessions of a grandparent are now referred to as trunklements, while underpants are known as gruds.
"And in less well-mannered households, there is a new word for the act of scratching one's backside--frarping."

(Eleanor Harding, "Fancy a Blish?" The Daily Mail UK, March 3, 2014)

"Homely" Terms

- "Family slang undoubtedly does in one way or another modify and create novel forms of speech which tend to become 'homely' terms of unconventional usage. It may even be true that the most insignificant member of the family, the baby, may have the greatest influence in the matter of introducing novel forms."

(Granville Hall, The Pedagogical Seminary, 1913)
- "More often than not, family words can be traced back to a child or grandparent, and sometimes they get passed down from generation to generation. They seldom escape the province of one family or a small cluster of families--so are therefore seldom written down and must be gathered in conversation."

(Paul Dickson, Family Words, 2007)