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16 Delightful Made-Up Words

Illustrator Rinee Shah is attempting to form a definitive catalogue of the words we share with family and friends.

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A few years ago, I did an illustration project called Seinfood, and my favorite part about it was that people were sharing it with their friends and family because of a shared nostalgia from watching the show together. I was recently watching an old episode of The West Wing, and one of the characters said a strange word and then said he realized that it was probably just a word his mother made up, and it occurred to me that that probably happens to people all the time.

2. The Quincy.

Rinee Shah /

A small defect in our bathtub. Like a small brown burn mark (noun) kwin-zee.

Somehow, it became known as "The Quincy." We tried to avoid touching it. I remember sitting in the tub terrified of it. My mom would say "It's just The Quincy, it won't hurt you."

- Robbie W., Riverside, California



Rinee Shah /

You're in trouble! (exc) pah-stuh fah-jaw-law. "My grandma always said it in a raised voice. We thought it was a bad word so we'd say it to other kids at the park when we were mad at them and we always got weird looks. I realized later that it means pasta and beans in Italian. "

- Katherine R., Playa del Rey, California


16. Boss of the Peas.

Rinee Shah /

An authoritative ranking to one-up my mother, who was the self-proclaimed "Boss of the Applesauce (noun) Boss of the pees. "Look who thinks he's Boss of the Peas."

- Ryan D., Grapevine, Texas