Worth 1000 words

Somewhere between infanthood and toddler land, an important switch in the brain goes off.  All of a sudden, children understand that all those sounds are actually, gasp, symbols!  They mean something!  They stand for something else!  This is quite a nifty discovery and it seems we never really outgrow our fascination with language as a symbol. 

Older children often experiment with Pig Latin or Double Dutch (a.k.a. Ubbi-Dubbi) so that they can talk to one another in private.  If two children in a classroom speak German and the others don’t, you’ll be able to catch them speaking to each other in their private code – German.  Twins often invent a private language as well, which is often developed before the children’s native tongue. 

Although adults don’t like to think of themselves as children, they haven’t outgrown their fascination and playful relationship with language either.  Esperanto has been one of the major attempts by adults to create a unique language.  Interestingly, the Klingon language (from the TV series Star Trek) has more speaking members than Esperanto.  Go figure.  Lately, we have developed a number of more specialized languages like acronyms (e.g., RSVP, KISS, ASAP), computer speak (e.g., IP, Java, Flash, HTML), e-mail lingo (e.g., BTW, J, LOL), and sports lingo (e.g. for cricket: stumps, bails, bowling crease).

There are many reasons human beings are so fascinated with languages and codes, but one of them is the desire to communicate that we belong together and share something special.  Our unique symbols differentiate us from those who don’t share them and make us feel understood.  Just think how good it must feel when you meet someone in a foreign country who shares your language!  A common language says that we are alike and belong together. 

Nowhere is that more true than between two people who love each other.  They needn’t be twins to develop a unique language or code that only they understand.  It helps them feel and reinforce the special bond they have.  A brief ritual phrase that expresses love, intimacy, commitment, or some other meaning can be your special cue/saying/expression that speaks a thousand words in just a few.  Naturally, this tends to be unique to each couple and would have little meaning to anyone overhearing it.  Sometimes it’s a form of nonverbal communication like a written symbol or a hand signal, or actual sign language.  One couple liked to use brief signs because, they said, words alone could never express their love for each other and having a nonverbal symbol conveyed that sentiment.

Following are some examples for illustration.  Your own unique phrases and symbols will come to be during your relationship.  As you’ll see, they are usually derived from some wonderful, funny, intimate, shared experience that later gets ritualized.


Signs of unique relationship

  • Ferret paw print

Both partners really loved ferrets, but because of living arrangements, couldn’t have them anymore.  They loved the playful spirit and constant good nature in their pets as well as each other.  To symbolize that, they always signed notes to each other with a ferret paw print.

  • Nose jousting

A couple from Northern Alaska used to “Eskimo kiss” (rub noses) sometimes for practical reasons.  When they moved to California, they continued to do it every now and then.  Later, the guy wanted to quit and just do some nice, regular kissing, but she still wanted to Eskimo kiss sometimes.  He would try and dodge her and get in a normal kiss, which turned into a funny game of nose jousting.  Now, they do both, but they will sometimes nose joust as well, which they assured me got plenty of strange looks in public, but was extra fun and meaningful for them.

Bids for intimacy

  • Shower

When a couple’s parrot was left alone for too long, she would start shouting “Shower!”  The parrot enjoyed the shower ritual, which included a lot of play time and holding as well as the pleasure of warm water.  So when her owners were in different parts of the house and wanted a hug or to be together, one would parrot the bird and start shouting, “Shower!”  The other person would come running and “shower” the lonely one with hugs and kisses.

  • Bring the past to the present

A much-traveled couple had quite a few magic words at their disposal.  All one of them had to say was, “Costa Rica” or “the salt baths” and it would conjure up a wonderful shared moment.  It was an invitation to recreate it right there and then with a pleasant drink or a quick picnic. You can imagine what a wonderful feeling it created for both of them.

  • Hot stuff

When the woman wanted a lot of hugging and kissing, she would turn up the heat wherever they were . . . the car heater, the fire place (even in the summer), the hot tub, or the house heater.  When her mate noticed the heat, he know what it meant.

Expression of love

  • Kiss from afar

It’s simple really.  When in a public space and far apart, couples will often shoot each other a quick kiss and a smile to say I love you.
Similarly, a hand over the heart, touching a certain spot (like earlobe), or the actual sign-language sign for love, served the same purpose.

  • As you wish

Something from a movie, play or TV show frequently becomes a fun catch phrase for partners.  In the popular movie “The Princess Bride,” the main character says, “As you wish” when he means I love you.  That phrase has great symbolism in the movie and more than a few couples reported answering requests for something with “As you wish.”  It would bring a smile to their faces.

  • Silent gazing

Nothing is said.  Take 5 minutes and gaze into one another’s eyes.  Couples will often do this to the length of a song, and also often with a candle lit.  So that it has the recurring element, a certain day of the week is usually chosen, like a Friday.

Help me!

  • Blink in a special way to indicate that one wants to get out of a conversation or situation. 
  • A specific word, like “interesting,” especially if it is said in a certain tone/cadence/manner.
  • Stand in a certain way, or tapping of one’s foot, or generally holding one’s body in a certain manner.


Principal Purposes Served

  • Build the relationship culture and history
  • Communicate values and beliefs
  • Put emotional money in the bank
  • Fosters nurturing, affectionate, loving contact