I’ve written before about my dictionary stand that Benn Harrison built. It looks like a lectern, a place you might stand and deliver inspiring orations of great wisdom, but rather than facing an audience it faces a wall. I did put an antique mirror over it, but have yet to give myself a pep talk or sermon, regardless of how often I could use one.

I wish I could say that an invaluable family heirloom dictionary graces its smooth, sloped surface, but while it is large and significant in content, my dictionary is a roughly worn yard sale find from the 1970s. I use it surprisingly often. There is something about flipping through its pages over scrolling through a Google search that feels right to me. I spend too much time at the screen as it is.

I was walking Hansel and Gretel the other day (for those of you paying attention, yes, I have decided they are mine and will stop referring to them as my foster dogs) and we came to a little rain-fed pond, puddle really, that is only full after a good shower. It is the funniest little spot to me because when full it is clear and fresh and beautiful and the dogs love to stand at its edge and drink. A few days later it will be a yucky mucky mud hole that I won’t let them anywhere near for fear of what they will track home.

On this day, as we approached the spot I caught myself about to ask them if they wanted a “dink otter.” I was immediately transported back to my childhood. Either my sister or I used to say “dink otter” for “drink of water” and it cracked me up that it popped into my head. I began to think about the made-up phrases and words that have developed in our family over the years and I realized that, while there is no family dictionary in which they might appear, there should be. And so, here is its beginning.

Chothers — When Ramsey was about 3, we had a new kitten and the older cats were not impressed. One morning as they ate breakfast Ramsey delightedly cried, “Look mommy, they’re smelling their chothers! They like their chothers!” It took me a second, but then I realized she was smashing “each other” into one word. We have since used it often to refer to things such as a budding romance, “They really like their chothers,” and so on.

Dragon Mommy — This one is pretty easy to target as the raging words of a toddler unable to think of any other way to insult his closest tyrant. My nephew Russell was probably around 3 when this spilled forth in a fit of frustration. It was logically preceded by “You… you… you…” as his sweet little mind tried to find the worst word he could imagine. We since use it to lighten a tense moment as the ultimate release of disdain.

Forsy Cows — I’m old enough that the majority of my childhood was spent without the benefit of seat belts. As the oldest, there was a goodly period of time in which I would stand on the front bench seat next to mom or dad as they drove, observing the landscape with nothing to obstruct my experience. Horses, cows, no matter which, were forsy cows to me, and I pointed them out loudly at every opportunity.

Jenerator — Our silly Uncle Johnny loved to poke at my sister and me when we were little. We both have blue eyes so he would call us “Green Eyes” just to hear us protest, for example, and it was generally accompanied by a lot of tickling. He called Jennifer “Jenerator” for the exact same reason. No one calls us Green Eyes anymore, but Jenerator has stuck.

Gonka Feppard — Names are hard when you are little. This is what Jennifer, who is four years younger than me, first called me and it, too, has stuck over the years. If you want to push my tickle button, just call me Gonka Feppard in public.

Sister Wife — Made up family terms don’t just come from the minds of children. Sometimes a situation calls for the creation of a special word to define the terms that might be, otherwise, undefinable. When my former husband Joe married his lovely wife Leanne, she coined the title “Sister Wife” for me to symbolize the special relationship she and I would hold in our little blended family. Joe and I have always taken co-parenting very seriously and this was Leanne’s way of acknowledging the partnership that she was joining. This title has always been dear to me, as has her contribution in our daughter’s life.

Turner Car — When I was out of college and not yet married, my soon-to-be sister-in-law Sherry hired me to care for her daughter Katie while older sister Elizabeth was at preschool. Sherry and her husband Bill were artists who did outdoor art shows for a living. Their minivan was often used for long distance travel with two littles (later three) and their sitter (me) in tow.

Being artistic types, chaos tended to abound, and the minivan was a perfect example. It was not unusual to slide open the side door on a hot summer afternoon and smell a symphony of flavors such as old fruit and molding bread and leaking sippy cups and cans of paint and wet shoes and greasy tools. You never wanted to reach under your seat for fear of what you might find. The family has since, mostly, cleaned up their act as the children have grown into adults, but the term shall live for eternity, as may some of those smells wherever that minivan sits now.

What words are in your family dictionary? I know you have your own, but feel free to adopt some of ours, if you find them useful.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.