Opinion

I am beshwiggled and incatacipated! Why there’s nothing better than family slang

Any linguists or Yiddish experts out there? I would like some help settling a dispute with my wife, please. Early on in our relationship, she introduced me to a brilliant new word: beshwiggled. Ever put on a jacket over a bunch of layers and everything feels crumpled and you’re all hot and bothered? You’re beshwiggled. Ever tossed and turned at night and your bedsheets feel tangled and uncomfortable? Beshwiggled. Evocative with a satisfying mouthfeel: I reckon Lewis Carroll would have had a good chortle at the word. It sounds like something he might have conjured up in Jabberwocky.

Carroll didn’t invent it though. According to my Jewish-American wife, beshwiggled is a Yiddish word. Curious about the etymology, I spent a while Googling different spellings of beshwiggled (geshwhiggled, b’swiggled) and consulting online Yiddish dictionaries, but couldn’t find any information. I think your family made it up, I finally informed her. “No,” she insisted. “It’s a real word!” I don’t want to be a schmuck, but I’m not sure it is.

Actually, let me rephrase that: even if beshwiggled is family slang (“familect” is the technical term), rather than something with a dictionary definition, it’s still a real word. All words are invented, some just catch on more widely than others. And, quite frequently, family slang is a lot more delightful than anything in the dictionary. There’s a fun compilation of familect called Kitchen Table Lingo with marvellous entries such as “bibbly” (pleasantly drunk), “incatacipated” (when a cat is asleep on your lap meaning you can’t do any chores), and “urglesplerk” (homemade muesli). I would like to petition the Oxford English Dictionary to put an official word stamp on all of those immediately – along with beshwiggled. Speaking of which, if someone can finally help me settle the origin of beshwiggled once and for all, I will be verklempt.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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