Words escape me

April 5, 2012

By Pat Detmer

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I consider myself a wordsmith, and yet when speaking, appropriate words leave me as often as a brainless Twitter post leaves a Kardashian. In my gray matter — and I’ll admit to periodic synapse misfires up there — if an object name does not fit the thing that it refers to, then the word simply does not exist in my world.

This might explain why I’ve called flashlights “fire hammers” for the past 20 years, although I’m not sure why I decided that “fire hammer” made more sense.

It’s possible that this propensity is genetic, because my mother fumbled for words as well. She didn’t create new words like I do; she just used “doomaflidger” for anything that she couldn’t remember, from safety pins to car batteries.

She also called slippers “pusskins,” claiming that it was a word derived in part from our German heritage. As a result, we all use “pusskins” to this day, even though a trip to the Internet underbelly on a definition search has convinced me that it’s a good time to look for a substitute.

It also used to make me crazy when Mother would tell a story and find it necessary to verbally scroll through the name of every acquaintance she’d had since 1947 to get to the right person, i.e., “So then Carol said … I think it was Carol. No. Deborah. Anne. Barb? Sue? Christa?”

Listening to her in my 30s, I would feign drooling and rolling my eyes back in my head while promising myself that I would jump off the nearest cliff if I ever got that bad.

Well, guess what? I am now 61 and should probably avoid any hikes up DeLeo Wall.

These thoughts occur to me because when we had the family over for dinner the other day, something was spilled on the floor and I said that I had to go to the garage and retrieve the “swipinta.” What’s a “swipinta?”

Well, for some reason, the words “dust” and “pan” together have just never worked for me. Rarely is it dust that you’re sweeping up, and the thing never looked like a “pan” to me, so it became the “sweep-into,” and then shortened and morphed into “swipinta.”

And if that’s not bad enough, I often forget the name for the broom (it was, briefly, the “indoor rake”) so the broom periodically becomes the “swipinta with.”

When I started writing this column, I thought these slips were pretty funny. But re-reading it, I’m feeling a little uneasy and wonder if it’s time for me to make an appointment for a trip through a people silver tube radar thing.

You know what I mean … that patient tube scanner X-ray doohickey? The one that takes indoor pictures of your skull?

You know: The doomaflidger.

Reach Pat Detmer — whose husband The Sainted One claims to understand every verbal aberration that she’s ever come up with — at patdetmer@aol.com.

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2 Responses to “Words escape me”

  1. Donn on April 7th, 2012 9:54 am

    Pat, in the last three paragraphs, I think you are trying to find the right words for what technicians call the doughnut hole magnetic people cave cabinet.

  2. Maria Viehmeyer-Vogel on September 9th, 2012 2:56 pm

    Hi Pat, just today I used the word ” pusskins” and then I googled it because I always wondered where that word came from. It seems that my grandmother always called them that and well, so did the rest of my family. Anyway, I was born and raised in a Midwestern town that was predominantly of German heritage as was me and my whole family and I just assumed that everyone called those little soft things you wear around the house on your feet–“pusskins.”
    When I moved to Texas my friend said “WHAT did you say?” when I used that word.
    Hmmm–light bulb moment. No one else calls them that. So I was glad to read your article and find that it does have some basis and it wasn’t just a made-up word.
    By the way, my google search yielded nothing.

    p.s. My grandmother also said Maria is a German name :) hmmm

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