Family Sayings: The Makings of a Good Idiom

Giraffes are SO selfish!

Do you know what a "selfish giraffe" is?

Idiom – The usage or vocabulary that is characteristic of a specific group of people; an expression whose meanings cannot be inferred from the meanings of the words that make it up


Every family uses certain expressions that most outsiders would not comprehend.  These “sayings,” I believe are borne out of 1) the shared history that is part of the family dynamic and 2) the fact that family members generally share a common sense of humor; they all find humor in the same kinds of things (which, of course, is related to the fact that they share history).

For instance, in my family, any one of us can say, “You’re such a selfish giraffe,” and everyone of us knows exactly what is being conveyed and exactly where the expression originated.  And for your own enlightenment and pleasure, I am going to share this source with you:

I raised my children on a steady diet of these old Andy Griffith reruns (our common “history”).  When the “giraffe scene” would come on, though I had seen it a dozen times before, I would stop what I was doing and watch it intently once again (this modeled to my children what I thought was humorous, thus, building that common sense of humor).  I think Don Knotts is magnificent in this scene in his journey from cocky confidence to doubt to repentance. I laughed again—for the millionth timeas I watched it after finding the clip on Youtube!  It never gets old to me.

Because of this shared history, at any given time you might hear one of my clan make reference to “selfish giraffes,” a term that the public at large might find confusing.  For me and mine, though, it makes perfect sense.

Another expression that is possibly a little more commonplace is presented in the clip below:

The movie, Dumb and Dumber, is much more recent than the Andy Griffith series and so more people are familiar with Jim Carey’s frustrated declaration, “Our pets’ heads are falling off…”  My kids loved this movie.  I tolerated it—except for this scene (again, watching it as I loaded it into this post, Steve asked me why I was laughing at the computer).  I do realize that finding a phrase humorous and integrating it into our family jargon are two very different things.   But it works for us.  When my daughter, Misty, who is all grown up now and a mother of four, says to me, “…our birds’ heads are falling off!” I get it; she’s had a bad day.

Whereas the previous two idioms were borne from the creativity and brainstorming of writers and actors, our newest one comes from within the family, where the best ones always come from—the mouth of babes.

Below is a video clip I captured of my youngest grandson, Shepherd, while visiting with him at my kitchen table. He was completely unaware that I was videoing him, as I was using my iPhone (and what kid is not used to the adults in his life with an ever-present phone in hand?).  A couple of words of explanation are in order before you watch the video.

Shepherd’s dad, Clay, is an avid hunter and outdoorsman; thus, Shepherd is well-versed in all manner of “hunting vocabulary.”  He may not get it right every time, but he usually is in the ballpark.  Whether or not you are well-versed, I think you will get a kick out of Shepherd’s rendition of the word “muzzle-loader” (a type of gun).  And also, in order to understand one of his statements where he is clarifying something for me, you need to know that his older brother is Bear, whom we often refer to as Bearsey.  Now, that said, watch and see if you can guess what our new family expression is:

Did you guess our new expression?  If you guessed, “I don’t have a flashlight,” then you are right on!  This statement can show up anywhere, at any time, in our conversations, and it simply indicates our inability, unwillingness, or most often, our forgetfulness in fulfilling a request (much like Shepherd’s inability to shoot a shark without a flashlight).

“Did you remember to check the mail?”  Remorsefully, “I don’t have a flashlight.”

“Honey, will you get the camera?” [requires a trip down 18 stairs into the basement].   Whiny, “But I don’t have a flashlight.”

“Wanna go for a walk?”  Dismissively, “I don’t have a flashlight.”

I know this doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what makes it an idiom (which brings to mind how similar the words idiom and idiot are).  And that’s what adds spice to our family.  Feel free to integrate our family’s spice into your own family goulash.  I would absolutely LOVE to hear some of your family idioms and where they came from.  Do share in the comments below. Smile

P.S.  I feel obliged to add that in our family we do not shoot sharks with flashlights or guns and we don’t encourage our children to do so, either. 🙂

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Valerie via Compfight

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14 Responses to Family Sayings: The Makings of a Good Idiom

  1. Michael Callahan says:

    All this animal cruelty talk? Diane, I just got six little words for you, “nip it, nip it in the bud!!!!”

  2. Jeff says:

    Bless his heart!

    • Diane says:

      Yes, I actually thought of that one, too. Another good ol’ Barney Fife saying. I just didn’t want to post too many videos from the same show. Here’s another one that I say all the time (originating from Barney): “It’s therapedic.”

  3. Sherri Sumstine says:

    I so enjoyed your blog, Diane! I smiled and laughed all the way through. I’m trying to think of family idioms and….at 12:00 am the only one I can think of is when Mike would say, “I’m just talking out of the side of my neck”. It basically refers to talking about something you have no true knowledge about. I’m sure there are others. I’ll ask Steph….. Goodnight. Thanks for sharing your grandson with us. He is adorable! \l”/

  4. Carla says:

    In my family, we never talked about just giving someone a hug, instead you would always “hug their neck” even if you hugged them around the waist! ha! I never thought this was odd until we grew up and started bringing outsiders in (the spouses!).

    • Diane says:

      I’ve heard that saying a lot, too, Carla! Makes me think of the song, “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and peck and a hug around the neck.” Thanks for commenting!

  5. this week i started watching The Andy Griffith Show while cleaning up the kitchen/living room (it’s on Netflix streaming!). i have never watched it before. pretty good stuff! 🙂

  6. jeff says:

    To say that this was the only scene you tolerated on dumb and dumber is a bit late of an overstatement.

    One of ours is “that’ ll do donkey…that’ll do” borrowed from shrek. Used to suggest one of us needs to calm down.

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