108/365: Goomba

IMG_9844 copyEven if you intend to be truthful—a slippery concept in its own right—one’s blog life is necessarily different from one’s real life. It just is. In the first place, there are huge gaps in the narrative stream. Besides the many omissions there are the other usual suspects: condensing, approximation, emotional films, protection of privacy, and the lurking desire to come across as slightly more intelligent, sane, correct, and charming than the real life version (unless you specialize in being neurotic, in which case charm is the only real issue).

This isn’t news to anybody, of course. But it’s still something I think about, and something I definitely thought about when Carl and I were talking about Iris’s verbal development with a friend a few weeks back.

Do you think she knows what you’re talking about?

Not really, we say. She cheerfully babbles at us and is quite pleased when we babble back. But that’s about it.

Does she know her name?

We glance at each other uncomfortably. I don’t think so, we say, neglecting to add that even if she did, she probably still wouldn’t recognize her actual name. We don’t really call her Iris that much. I mean, we do. When other people are around. And I’m sure we will again at some point. After all, we put a lot of hard work into finding that name. We love that name. It’s so strong and beautiful and fabulous.

But mostly we just call her Goomba.

If you’re part of whatever we’re calling the 25-35 year old generation now, you know what a goomba is: Those little two-toothed mushrooms that chase Mario and Luigi around in the old Nintendo video games. They are the bread-and-butter everyman of Super Mario, the keep-you-on-your-toes character, the busy little knee-chompers that show up on every screen. If this sounds negative, they also make awfully cute plush toys. I have fond childhood memories of goombas. And anyway, it’s not like you pick out nicknames at Macy’s. You just look at your child one day and in the fondly psychotic babble of baby talk something just pops out and sticks.


Variously: The Goomba, Gooms, Goomie Goomerson, Zoomie, Zoomer, and Zoom.

My phone still adds the red line of judgment, but it has begrudgingly added Goomba to its list of autocorrect options. So it’s autocorrect official, and I’m not sure it gets more legit than that these days.

Worrying about how the revelation of such a name may impact her psychological development at a later stage, however, we did go so far as to check online to find out what else a goomba might be. Apparently it’s an Italian-American slur of sorts, but we were heartened by the site that translated it from the Neopolitan dialect as an affectionate term; thug; “you crazy goomba.”

Good enough for us.

The fabulous thing about words is that the more you use them, the more of a life they develop of their own. You can’t create family argot on purpose. It’s a woolly and wild creature. Either you allow it in your house or you don’t. But if you don’t it will probably just break through a window anyway, so you might as well save time and just keep the doors open.

The possible path of individual bits of argot are truly limitless, but after the initial birth as name in our family, goomba also began to work its way through nursery songs (“How much is that goomba in the window?” and the counting song “One and a Two and a Three little Goombas” (to the tune of the Macarena, naturally) and the entirely made up “Goomie Goomerson (She’s a teeny, tiny, teeny tiny GOOMERSON)”). And somewhere along the line we realized that Goomba isn’t just a proper noun. It’s a regular one too. This became evident when we found ourselves having perfectly serious conversations like “I don’t know; when do you see yourself being ready for a second goomba?” and “aw, look at those cute little goombas playing together” and “well, that would have to be later—say when Goomba #2 is potty trained.”

These are the things you can’t make up, create, control, or put on your list of New Year’s resolutions. But they are some of the happiest things. I have very fond memories of the secret language I shared with my siblings in childhood, a crazy pastiche of misheard words and movie quotes and vowel shifts and potty humor. It’s comforting, a way of belonging, a touchstone of humor that covers a multitude of arguments.

I’m sure the names will have morphed out of recognition by the time Iris is old enough to talk and take a more controlling interest in the family speech patterns. That’s part of the fun of it, the creative play and ephemeral nature. Writing it down is a lot like collecting butterfly cocoons. When nothing stays the same for ten days let alone ten years, there’s a special happiness just in cementing the memories.


3 thoughts on “108/365: Goomba

  1. Wow. I love this post. You have a playfulness about language and also a very validating sense of your own playfulness. I struggle with made-up words, the potty humor and such. I get flustered by lack of clarity, by making light of things and by the cheapening of ideas and concepts that can happen with made up blather. I love how happy you are in it though and how light you can make it feel and yet how legitimate. It doesn’t seem like some strange twitch when you describe it, just an endearing sort of personal communication.

  2. I love made-up words. Shakespeare made up reams of words. And so did my mother. Two very excellent examples. We are very into crazy pet names around here. E. is Buba, or Bubs, or Bub (no relation at all to the Brit slang for “baby”). Other children have been Bug, Bud, Caitalumpsiebump (shortened to Bump), and Foo Foo.

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