“Oi, get off our train!”
It’s a great line. Subtly British with its “oy”, collegial (it’s “our” train), and just feisty enough to signal that something exciting is about to happen. The book of that title sits somewhere on a shelf in my basement (I hope), set aside in a small pile of favorite volumes I read to my son and daughter when they were small. The son turned twenty-one in the wee hours of today, so I find myself thinking back to the stories—and specifically the phrases—that have become a part of our family language over the last two decades.
For me, besides the “oy” of John Burningham’s book, there’s A.A. Milne’s “Bisy Backson”, the cryptic phrase that so puzzled Pooh when, unknown to him, Christopher Robin headed off to school each day. Who was this Backson, Pooh needed to know? And why was he keeping Christopher Robin so busy? It’s a handy phrase, when you want to tell someone you’re going out to do errands but you’ll be home in time to get to the soccer game, or the office. Busy Backson. Speaks volumes.
Bendamalina. I can remember nothing from that book except the cadence in which I used to read its comic formula aloud. “Bendamalina, Bendamalina, go home and tell your sisters to put the soup on to heat.” And Bendamalina, because she was wearing a pot on her head (of course), would hear it all wrong. A perfect analogy to a child’s occasional bewilderment in the world of grownup language—and to my own, as a non-native English speaker occasionally foiled by idioms.
And finally: “Ooh, said all the little crocodiles.” Bill and Pete Go Down the Nile. Not exactly a classic, but somehow ever-present in my family vocabulary. When the twenty-one-year-old son shows me his diploma in a couple of years, I’m likely to exclaim “ooh”—and to follow it with a reference to those crocodiles.
Writers and readers are always being asked about their favorite book. What about your favorite children’s book? Which books stuck in your head? What were the stories from your childhood or your children’s childhood whose language became part of your very own?
Happy Birthday, Eoin!