“Don’t Toby Me”

Chocolate Cake

Image by alachia via Flickr

In our house, we have our own kind of language. Our children, we always said, needed to take English As A Second Language when they were younger. Now? It’s a lost cause. My husband and I use a combination of words and phrases we learned from both Viennese and German parents, some real and mostly made up. My husband and I have been married for twenty-two years, we are also guilty of making up many expressions that some might consider “creative.”

I kid you not, my brother-in-law (on my husband’s side) actually published a little dictionary, for amusement, for one Thanksgiving dinner  many years ago. It was the hit of the night. People (mostly my sister) wrote to him begging him to do another edition or to add a phrase or correct one that was there. That dictionary with photos of all of us when our children were tiny is still talked about today. It was so special that there never can be a second edition, that’s how much we love it.

A bit of many different languages are included. Our poor kids used to ask us if a certain word was real or not. There’s really no way of telling but when in doubt, it’s probably not real. However, there is one expression that is famous throughout the family and has extended to close friends, acquaintances and most probably strangers. It started way back in the eighties when my then best friend and I went to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Boston. After finishing our meals, we looked forward, as always, to the main reason we went out to dinner: dessert. I remember that they had a special dessert that was called Cappuchino pie, a mixture of chocolate and coffee, that my old friend loved.  I ordered something else, I believe it was a chocolate layer cake with whipped cream, or as we used to say “real” whipped cream.

Wanting to take a break after dinner since I was getting full, I went to the bathroom AFTER our dessert came but BEFORE I took a bite. When I came back, not two minutes later, there was a BITE of MY chocolate cake missing. That’s right, you heard me. She had tasted my dessert BEFORE I tasted it and that, to me, was inexcusable. I was looking forward to that first bite, yet she ate it while I was in the bathroom. She didn’t ask permission (would so not be granted) she just ate it. Thus, her name being Toby, the expression was born. It lives on to this day and it will always be alive…..

It’s only been about thirty-one years, yet we continue to use and enjoy this expression.  My niece, many years ago, was with a friend of hers and her friend attempted to try something that my niece ordered but hadn’t tasted yet. My niece proclaimed in a loud voice “Don’t Toby Me!” She then explained what that meant to her friend and the phrase continues to be used and enjoyed in various settings by people probably unbeknownst to us.

The friendship didn’t last but NOT for that reason.  Sometimes, many years after an old friendship is over you can still appreciate a tiny detail, a golden nugget of a phrase, way past the expiration date of the friendship. Watch your dining companion closely. If he/she attempts to steal something off your plate BEFORE you have tried it, stop them.  Keep an eye on their fork  and be prepared. If they do it once, they will never do it again and yes, they will learn. The miracle continues. You’re welcome.

p.s. Jerry Seinfeld could have done a whole show on this. Just sayin…..

9 thoughts on ““Don’t Toby Me”

  1. My Grandmother used to make up words too and tell us they were Gaelic. And, my Mom had sayings that made no sense at all. Then I married the Joe-Man, his Father came from Swiss immigrants…so I learned a lot of Swiss swearwords. I was probably six years ol when my Gram taught me how to “kiss my ass” in Gaelic! What a Gal!


  2. How wonderful that your bro-in-law created a dictionary! Something to hold onto for sure. I think a 2nd edition, now that the children are graduating from high school might be interesting, especially if there are new words/phrases to add.
    My father had a language all his own (based on wordplay, letter-shifting, and puns). My hubby and I came together with out own “languages” and now have quite a lexicon of odd phrases, wordmorphs, etc. Mom had a few phrases she inherited from her farming family and rural small town background.
    Unfortunately, all the germanisms (carried forward from immigration in the 1700s) on my side disappeared with my grandmother and her mother-in-law. Even the pronouncations that set apart folks from that part of the country has homogenized, though some of the expressions remain.
    My husband’s family also has german roots (immigrated to NYC in the early 1910s) but his father did not retain any of the language. His german ancestor married an Irish immigrant; they seem to have both decided to be very American in their speech.
    Whenever I hear someone else use a word/phrase I do, I take note! It’s funny to hear someone else saying something that feels unique to you or your family or friends. (i.e. “holy jumpings” (me) “holy mackinaw” my thesis supervisor)
    The NYC company I worked for had a retreat in Niagara Falls, Ontario, so I created a handout of “Canadianisms” for the folks, and never let on that I had done it. I snuck down early the first full day to place a copy at each chair. Most thought the resort had put the package together. A few folks figured it out eventually.


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