My husband and I are both writers. I write regular articles for this very magazine, among others, and even have a book idea or two in the works. He writes books, screenplays, and lengthy thought pieces for various outlets. As such, we both like to think that we’ve cultivated a good grasp of the English language. We find deep satisfaction in the act of crafting the perfect sentence and using true and beautiful words to convey what we’re thinking and feeling. Words are, after all, something we’re both very fond of.
On the other hand – and promise not to laugh when I tell you this – we’ve developed a sort of special language that we only use with each other. To us, the meal we eat together every morning is called brekfo. The warm, caffeinated drink we sip with our eggs is called coff. The act of taking a toothbrush to our teeth is referred to as brushing me tusks (said in a cockney accent, of course). The disinfectant spray we use to wipe the counters down with is sprrrah. If we’re having spaghetti for dinner, I’ll say we’re having noodlows.
We have recurring jingles, if you will, that some variations of are sung most days of the week. More often than not, they’re nonsensical, silly, and are only mildly relevant to the situation at hand. We have funny nicknames for our neighbors that require a long-winded explanation, speak in ridiculous voices to each other, and even share an imaginary friend (I promise, it sounds much weirder than it actually is…).
But our relationship wasn’t always like this. In the early stages of dating, our interactions were entirely made up of “normal” behavior, calculated efforts to impress one another, and carefully curated driving playlists that just so happened to begin as soon as he picked me up for a date. We weren’t just on our very best behavior, we wanted to seem cool and collected.
As we kept on seeing each other and our years together started to add up, now requiring more than one hand to count out, our methods of communication changed. It slowly devolved into funny voices, lots of shorthand, frequent jingles, and inside jokes. The more serious our commitment became, the less serious our presentation of ourselves toward one another became.
What I’ve learned recently, thanks to TikTok, is that we’ve cultivated a “marriage language.” And if you’re married or in a long-term relationship, the likelihood is that you and your guy have one too.
What Exactly Is “Marriage Language”?
Not to be confused with a love language, which centers around the way in which we give and receive affection that is most meaningful and natural to us, a marriage language can be defined as a special method of communication, phrases, and jokes that are unique to a particular couple. It often involves cute pet names, words shortened or mispronounced for the sake of silliness, and baby talk of some sort. And it’s so widespread, apparently, that marriage language is trending on TikTok.
The “marriage language” trend blew up on TikTok after content creators Lilianna Wilde and Sean Kolar, a married couple, posted a hilarious video in which Lilianna showed Sean pictures of random things and asked him what they were called. In their marriage language, a shower is a “show show,” rotisserie chicken is “chick rotiss,” pants are “pantaloons,” Bad Bunny is “Good Rabbit,” and butter is “buddah.”
Soon after their video went viral, couples all over TikTok were posting their own cute TikToks that showcased their relationship’s secret language, always while using the “eyes and mouth” filter for an added dose of humor and absurdity. Comments like, “We say bekfast, too!” and “I’m THRILLED to know other people do this. I’ve been writing ‘chimpken’ and ‘cheems’ on our grocery list for 6 years,” and “I literally had no idea other couples did this. Dr. Pepper has been ‘bepis’ in our house for all 8 years,” fill the comment section of each video. Through this trend, couples from different regions, generations, and backgrounds have realized that they’re not the only ones who use odd phrases and silly words with their partner.
Why Do We Develop Marriage Languages?
So what changes between the first couple of months of dating, when we’re all doing our best not to scare off the other by coming on too strong, and a few years further into the relationship? What inspires us to begin calling rotisserie chicken anything other than its proper name and to start speaking in funny voices and to use phrases that, just a few years ago, we never would have? Does falling in love just make us do crazy things, or is there a reasonable explanation as to why seemingly every married couple makes up amusing, even slightly embarrassing, words for everyday appliances, food items, and actions?
Tony Thorne, a linguist and lexicographer, explains: “Familect is one name given to the phenomenon whereby people develop their own private language or slang, typically made up of nicknames, in-jokes, puns, and baby talk, and often baffling to outsiders. … The words they invent often refer to the familiar objects around them – the classic example is the TV remote control for which hundreds of nicknames have been recorded: melly, moto, zapper, blabber, and so on.”
Is It a Good Thing To Have a Marriage Language?
This leads us to another question: Is having a marriage language simply a sweet outcropping of two people spending a lot of time together, or does it mean something more significant about the relationship? If you and your spouse have a marriage language, should this be taken as a neutral thing or a positive thing?
According to Thorne, having a marriage language is a sign that you and your spouse share a special bond. “This kind of language always has an element of bonding, reinforcing friendship and family ties, romantic urges, or other kinds of affection. … Inventing and sharing words, phrases, jokes with a partner is a demonstration of mutual understanding and warmth which is unique to just those two individuals, so perhaps more potent and meaningful than day-to-day social language in general,” he shared.
But it doesn’t just highlight the affection we feel for our spouse. It also encourages us to find joy and opportunities to become even closer, by means of taking what might have been a mundane moment and turning it into one of humor and bonding. Thus, we go from, “I feel dirty. I’m going to take a shower,” all the way to, “I feel stinkles. I’m gonna hop in the show show,”which is a decidedly more fun phrase.
Counselor Rosalind Miles shares, “These languages can be created in the most ordinary everyday moments. It proves there is something extraordinary to be appreciated within the relationship. It encourages people to find wonder and value in the everyday aspects of their relationship, whilst validating its strength and uniqueness that viewers can admire.”
Is It a Bad Sign If You Don’t Have a Marriage Language?
By this point, we’ve affirmed that you’re not weird if you and your husband call sloppy joes a “disheveled Joseph,” but what if you…don’t? What if you and your husband don’t have cutesy names for things, or silly made-up songs, or recurring phrases? “This trend is so cute and wholesome, but does it make anyone else wonder if there’s something wrong with their own marriage?” said one TikTok commenter.
Certainly not. While not having a marriage language could be attributed to the newness of a relationship, when the kind of intimacy that having a marriage language requires is not yet present, there are other reasons a couple might not develop a marriage language that have nothing to do with their lack of connection or being a bad match.
Every couple will find their various places of connection. For some, one of those places is through humor and laughing together – this is certainly the case in my own marriage. But this won’t be true of every couple, and that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the relationship. Other couples might connect more deeply through quality time and sharing unique experiences together, partnering in and assisting each other in their work, or through challenging one another intellectually. Our methods of communication and connection will vary as couples, but no one method is the “right” one.
No, it’s not just you and your guy – a lot of us have funny names for Starbucks, cream cheese, and disinfectant spray. The next time you feel sheepish about the strange, nonsensical words you and he bandy about every day, just remember that your marriage language is indicative of your relationship’s unique connection that can’t be replicated.
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