“The Slightest Thing To Do to a Baby” (and other family phrases)

Families are just a kind of tribe and, as such, have their own languages. Sometimes we say things to each other, quoting something or someone, and the listener will say: “what’s that from?” Meaning it sounds familiar (or familial) but she can’t place its origin. Even explaining this makes me wonder if it would make sense to anyone outside my family (hello, Janet!) Or, conversely, I’ll use a family-understood phrase, only to baffle my non-family audience. Once I said, apropos of I can’t remember, “I’ll be nappin’ like a baby by lunchtime.” And then to the baffled listener I had to say: “That’s not a thing, I guess?” When I told this story to Lily, she laughed, and understood, but also couldn’t place the phrase. Consider this a lexicon to a tribal language. Perhaps you have your own?

  1. “That’s the slightest thing to do to a baby!” Said anytime you object to something someone has done. Origin: unknown.
  2. “Tired as a person.” Said of dogs, usually. Origin: unknown.
  3. “Although not in my garden…” While this sounds specific to horticulture, it can be used as an all-purpose prevarication. Origin: Block Island, circa 2009, because it came up after many hours of playing Apples to Apples.
  4. Loving or hating something “to bitsies, bodies and bones.” Translation: a lot. Origin: unknown.
  5. “Family dance!” Said when one family member makes a ridiculous suggestion of what the family might do together. Origin: Jamaica, circa 2008, when Steve suggested the four of us dance together at a reggae bar. Teenagers were aghast.
  6. “You gotta get the money!” Said when someone needs to wrangle funds that are rightfully theirs. Origin: Brooklyn, circa 2015, when Lily was ripped off by her Air BnB guests.
  7. “Sick as a pig.” Said when you’re sick. Origin: maybe Lily or Oli as a child, misstating “sick as a dog.” Or maybe it’s a British thing, read in a book.
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