I’ve included a small sample of my personal, rather silly, dictionary. These are words that I use on a regular basis that, as far as I can tell, are unique to either my family or my close friends. I’ve attempted to define these personal “slang” terms and trace their origins as well as I can. 

Pruts (pl. noun) /pɹʌts/

1: Items displayed in a home that serve no functional purpose besides decoration. 

Synonyms: décor, knickknacks

Origin: My dad and grandpa both liked to use this word when I was growing up, usually in a pejorative sense. They told me it was a Dutch word, though they didn’t speak Dutch fluently. It was likely a term they had heard from their own parents or grandparents. I haven’t found any use of the word online (Dutch or otherwise), though it may be related to the Dutch prutsen, which means “to mess around” or “to tinker.” 

Ur-ur (noun) /ɝɝ/

1: A clump of hair sticking up in an unusual way, usually after a person has recently woken up. 

Usage note: while the more common term bed head usually refers to a person’s hair as a whole, ur-ur refers specifically to a piece or clump of hair. So, a person with bed head may have one or more ur-urs

Origin: My mom has used this term ever since I can remember. She says it was coined by her dad when she was a kid. His reasoning, she tells me, is that when a clump of hair sticks up on a person’s head, it roughly resembles a rooster’s comb. Ur-ur, then, is a shortening of common onomatopoeia for a rooster’s crow. 

Woobie (noun) /wʊbi/

1: A soft toy for a pet (especially for a dog), usually containing synthetic fabric stuffing.

Origin: From the 1983 film Mr. Mom. In this movie, woobie actually refers to a young child’s security blanket, similar to a term like binky. My parents had recently seen the movie when they got their first pets in the late 80s. They adapted the word to match the rough equivalent of a security blanket for a dog. When I was young, this was the universally used term for a dog’s chew toy, to the point that I have a specific memory of being eight years old and asking my mom why PetSmart didn’t have sign that said “woobies.” I thought it was what everyone called them. 

Ziggly (noun) /zɪgli/

1: A brief shiver or shudder with no obvious cause. 

Origin: I still don’t have the full story behind this word. Now and then I have spontaneous shivers that pop up almost like a tic. These have happened to me on a regular basis since I was young, and my dad would refer to them as zigglies. When I eventually asked him about the word, he said he got it from a college friend, who would experience something similar. Further research into the usage and origin of this term is required. 

Bonus entry:

*Trophy Emoji*

1– used as a function word to confirm or acknowledge having received a message. 

2– used as a function word to give praise or express excitement or celebration. Frequently used in a sarcastic manner. 

Synonym: Yay, nice, cool, *thumbs up emoji*

Origin: My Pokémon-playing friends communicating on Facebook Chat (we have a group). I can’t say why or how, but at some point the trophy became the go-to emoji for most things. I’ve since started using it with pretty much everyone. 

Emojis are particularly interesting to me because they raise the philosophical question of what a word even is. They’re a single unit of communication that carries a specific, context-based meaning, but they do so visually. Are facial expressions words? (Most people probably say no.) OK, how about signs in sign language? (I would say yes.) How about .gifs? How about memes? In early 2016, Dictionary.com became the first major word reference source to include emojis. It will be interesting to see, over time, how we formally document meaning associated with emojis, especially as online communication becomes more multimodal. 

1 Comment

  1. Kyric Koning

    Yes! This is a quality post, here. I love family and friend word-smithing. It’s amazing how even so small a social unit can drastically change words and usage. Thanks for sharing some of yours.


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