Louise Gleeson’s kids call each other out when someone’s acting like a “quallum,” offer a heartfelt “ozee-chicken” in response to a bad hair day, and perk up when their grandmother is on her way with “nunch.”
These aren’t words plucked from a dialect spoken in some far-flung land. “They’re part of a secret language that no one outside our circle can understand,” laughs Gleeson, a mother of four in Toronto. And while some words like “nunch” date back to Gleeson’s childhood, stemming from her Cantonese mother’s mispronunciation of “lunch,” she can’t recall the exact origins of others. (In case you’re wondering, “quallum” means “jerk,” and “ozee-chicken” translates to “it’s stressful, but it’ll be OK.”)
The secret words and phrases shared exclusively among the members of a household are what linguists call familect (sometimes called familylect). And though it might just sound like a family being silly, building a familect can have emotional benefits for kids and adults.