The History of Pig Latin (Plus its Role in Modern Parenting)

I shop with my child approximately once a week at the grocery store and sometimes at the thrift store. Things have gone pretty smooth so far, but his increasing awareness and corresponding preferences have me nervous. 

Is speaking in code going to be necessary in order to make it through his toddler years?


Spelling out select words in hopes of speaking above a child’s head is nothing new. 

Maybe you’ve seen this situation before - a child is present, and a certain word or phrase could spark confusion (or a conniption) and is therefore awkwardly spelled out by the surrounding adults. 

In our life, these words are cheese, berries, basement, walk, and brush. 

Discovering Trigger Words

It’s family picture time. Grandma shouts, “Cheese!” 

Every toddler knows where the cheese is.

It’s in the fridge!

Cheese has nothing to do with sitting still and smiling on a couch.

Should have told grandma to spell CHEESE.

A few hours later, someone mentions working in the basement. Our son immediately perks up like a prairie dog, grabs my hand, and starts leading me into the BASEMENT. 

The keyword, no surprise, was basement

(Our basement is a mythical land of no-nos and pure excitement. Last time we spent family time down there, he found my greeting cards, tossed them in the air like a mad-man, wound up with paper cuts, and left the rest of the house looking like Nightmare on Elm Street. I’ll repeat - that was the room with the greeting cards. What about the room with the tools?)

Basically, we don’t want our son to think about the basement, fall in love with the basement, or have anything to do with the basement. 

But sometimes we need to say the word basement.

We tried spelling out his “trigger words” for a few weeks. Words like “basement” were too long. We got tired of it. 

I wish we were cool enough to be a dual-language household, but we’re not. So my husband has suggested the verbal code of... Pig Latin.

Isyay isthay Upidstay or no?

A Brief History of Pig Latin

Tampering with a known language in order to create clever codes has been used across cultures and across human history. It’s even mentioned by mature and respected writers in numerous works. 

For example, a type of “parody Latin” known as “Dog Latin” can be traced back to mentions by the wise wordsmith Shakespear in his 1598 play, Love's Labour's Lost.

Confusing a listener through the use of a modified language was also mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s Kennilworth in 1821. There’s even the rise of “dog Greek” and then “pig Greek” mentioned by Edgar Allen Poe in 1844.

Hog Latin came after Dog Latin when American children dreamed up “Pig Latin” in the 1800s, originally referencing a hog instead of a pig. (Apparently, the game was not meant to be adopted by adults. In fact, it was likely meant to keep them out of the loop about cool boy things in the hopping 1860s.) 

Pig Latin’s Odd Musical History

Like many cultural phenomena, Pig Latin was made famous and solidified into cultural consciousness by a song. In 1919, the song Pig Latin Love came out.

"I-ya ovla ooya ithwa all my heart

Darling please tell me that we never part

If you're not hip or if you don't understand

they're saying "I love you" in P-i-g L-a-t-i-n”

- Arthur Fields (Columbia Records gets to claim this gem)

Up next, "We're in the Money" was given an odd Pig Latin verse by Giner Rogers in 1933, further cementing this awkward language into our cultural awareness.

Fast forward two decades after Pig Latin Love, and the song was perfect fodder for none other than The Three Stooges.

Then Pig Latin Love was recorded by Leadbelly (a personal favorite) in 1948 and again in 1961 by Bob Luman. 

Pig Latin Love was made to last!

Oddly enough, Pig Latin itself has been used in a jokey-folksy way by more people than you would expect.  

Now that we’ve done some research, let's experiment to see if Pig Latin is a good way to fool our children.

The Definition

The dictionary defines this noun as "a made-up language formed from English by transferring the initial consonant or consonant cluster of each word to the end of the word and adding a vocalic syllable (usually ˈpiɡ ˌlatn: so chicken soup would be translated to ickenchay oupsay . Pig Latin is typically spoken playfully, as if to convey secrecy.”

Secrecy is just what we need! (Too bad Pig Latin configured words usually sound too much like the original words.) I guess we’re just out of luck. Any suggestions?

Do you think the “spelling method” is effective for quelling toddler tantrums? Or should we try Pig Latin? 

Odd Extra Facts: There’s a Pig Latin language translator on Google. Also, the Bible has been translated into Pig Latin (proof that humans really know how to prioritize).


6 Replies to “The History of Pig Latin (Plus its Role in Modern Parenting)”

  1. We’ve been doing the spelling method around our 3 y/o son for a year now. Me and my wife spell out words that would cause excitement for him and sometimes cause a temper tantrum. He goes crazy for cheese too so that’s a must spell between us. Shower and haircuts are also a must spell because he hates those. Those are just a few examples for us and so far it’s pretty effective. Maybe we could look into using code words or hand signals especially when our 7 month old starts understanding more words that triggers him.
    Really intriguing about Pig Latin, I’ll look into it more and pass it on to my wife to see what she thinks. Thanks for this!! We’re always in need for any parenting tips.

    1. Thank you for sharing! I can’t believe the power cheese has for kiddos (ha ha). We are at a point where we can’t say “bath” because he actually loves his baths. It’s a new word every week (either for good reasons or bad, as you said). I think it takes too much work to think up Pig Latin on the fly, so it seems I’m still a speller!

  2. that’s pretty funny stuff. i suppose eventually the foot must just come down with some obedience, but that’s a ways off from toddler stage. i have to guess at all opinions on the subject having no kids of my own. i enjoyed the post. now i also want some cheese.

    1. Lol. Yep. We can’t speak in code his entire life. Someday he will just have to hear about cheese without getting any immediately.

      I’ve had a nice response with the “History of…” posts. Stay tuned! The next one is about the history of SPAM.

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