Accafortis, Yehoodi & other "family words"

Posted by Toby Hecht on September 19, 2001

In Reply to: Accafortis, Yehoodi & other "family words" posted by Bob on January 23, 2000

I thought aquafortis (strong water) was nitric acid.

: : While browsing in my favorite bookstore this week, Poor Richard's, I found a nifty little book, "Family Words: The Dictionary for People Who Don't Know a Frone from a Brinkle" by Paul Dickson (Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1988). Family words and phrases are those particular to one family - like when the baby "mispronounces" a word and that becomes part of the family's private language or when family members use a phrase taken from an inside joke.

: : Some family words, Mr. Dickson points out, are actually are "verbal antiques," word or phrases that were once widely used but disappeared from everyday language. A couple of the entries, I was happy to find, had previously been the subjects of inquiries on Phrase Finder:

: : RABBIT, RABBIT! -- "Don't ask us where or why we picked it up, but it's not original with us," writes Warren Johnson, who reports that the expression is a cry that goes up on the first day of the month when one family member first meets another.

: : YEHOODI - In more than a few families, this was the name for an imaginary person who left the television on, didn't flush the toilet, or committed ny of a number of other household sins. In his "Complete Unabridged Super Trivia Encyclopedia," Fred Worth has an entry for "Yehoodie" which may explain its origin. It reads, "The little man who pushes the next Kleenex tissue up in the Kleenex box. As Created by Bob Hope on his radio program." Worth also carries an entry for Yehudi that reads, "Non-existing character created on radio by Jerry Colonna. He's never heard or een."

: : When the question was posted about Yahoodi (a phrase used by the poster's father, I believe), all I could find was "Yehuda," a term that my source (can't remember the reference now) sid meant Jewish man. The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson lists this: "Jew - Jew comes from the German 'Jude,' which is a shortened form of Yehuda, the name of the Jewish Commonwealth in the period of the Second Temple."

: : I don't know if "Yehoodi," meaning Mr. Nobody and Yehuda have any connection.

: : Another family word in Mr. Dickson's book sounds awfully familiar to me:

: : ACCAFORTIS. Anything that is especially strong in flavor, taste, or muscular ability is "stronger than accafortis' in the family of Kenneth P. Weinkauf of Athens, Ohio. Nobody in the family knows what it means.

: : I know I've heard that phrase before - with accafortis pronounce AK-a-four-tis. My daughter the Latin scholar tells me that "fortis" means "strong, sturdy" in Latin and guesses that maybe accafortis was some sort of product at one time. Maybe a patent medicine. Has anyone else heard this phrase??

: Can't help with that phrase, but I thought I'd contribute a lovely word: idioglossia. It's a word that describes a private language, like the "family languages" you describe, the language that twins invent as toddlers to communicate with each other... it even extends to the language of a region intended to separate insiders from intruders (for example, cockney rhyming slang... a good way to distinguish Us from Them... until enough outsiders catch on. At that point, we invent new words...)