Kathryn Hymes in The Atlantic:
I celebrated my second pandemic birthday recently. Many things were weird about it: opening presents on Zoom, my phone’s insistent photo reminders from “one year ago today” that could be mistaken for last month, my partner brightly wishing me “iki domuz,” a Turkish phrase that literally means “two pigs.” Well, that last one is actually quite normal in our house. Long ago, I took my first steps into adult language lessons and tried to impress my Turkish American boyfriend on his special day. My younger self nervously bungled through new vocabulary—The numbers! The animals! The months!—to wish him “iki domuz” instead of “happy birthday” (İyi ki doğdun) while we drank like pigs in his tiny apartment outside of UCLA. Now, more than a decade later, that slipup is immortalized as our own peculiar greeting to each other twice a year.
Many of us have a secret language, the private lexicon of our home life. Perhaps you have a nickname from a parent that followed you into adulthood. Maybe you have an old joke or a shared reference to a song. Sometimes known as familects, these invented words, pet names, in-jokes, and personal memes swirl and emerge from the mess of lives spent in close quarters. During the pandemic, we’ve spent dramatically more time in those quarters, and our in-group slang has changed accordingly.
…We speak differently in different settings—this is no surprise—depending on whom we’re talking to and what the purpose is. Whether the formalities of a work presentation for colleagues or awkward small talk on a first date, our language shifts as the context and audience change. Familects are a part of the intimate register of language, the way we talk “backstage” with the people we are closest to. They’re our home slang, if you will, where we can be our nonpublic selves in all their weird glory. Familects can emerge from any type of family: big, small, chosen, or your “quaranteam,” as a friend calls it. Over time, these terms may become sticky in your inner circle.