Sterile Cockpit

Sterile Cockpit

by Kerry Scott on 1 February 2013

Post image for Sterile Cockpit

A couple of weeks ago my oldest child missed the school bus. It was a nice day, so we decided to walk to school. This meant that we had to cross one busy intersection. When we got there and the light turned green, we held hands and shouted, “STERILE COCKPIT!”

I’m pretty sure we’re the only family in the world that does this.

See, my last corporate HR job was with a small airline. I worked closely with the chief pilot there, and he told me a lot about what it’s like to fly. One of the things he told me was this: When you’re taking off or landing, you’re not supposed to chit-chat. You don’t talk about anything but the task at hand, which is safely taking off or landing. Period. The term for this, at least at my airline, was “Sterile Cockpit.”

When we lived in Milwaukee, we walked a lot. We lived near a very busy intersection, and you really had to pay attention when you crossed the street, especially with two little kids in tow. We made a rule that said that all conversation, wiggling, dancing, and general hijinks had to stop when we crossed that one intersection. Our shortcut for reminding the kids of the rule was saying, “Sterile cockpit!” each time.

This is how weird family expressions get started. 100 years from now, my great-grandchildren will be saying, “Sterile cockpit!” when they cross the street. They might not even know the origin of the expression (unless they find this post…in which case, hello, future grandkids!). I know for sure that there are other expressions that come from my husband’s childhood or mine that my kids could not explain, because they come from people who are long gone now…but they live on in our goofy family sayings.

I’m curious. What odd sayings live on in your family? Where did they come from?

Photo by jurvetson

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Margaret February 1, 2013 at 6:27 pm

“Zorbet” When you kiss a small child on the neck and then do a raspberry, creating a farting noise. (Zorbet originates from the Cosby Show)

“I love you from the mailbox to the moon.” (my son)


Karen February 1, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Ohmigosh, I haven’t heard the word “zorbet” in decades. Thank you for sharing that one, Margaret. I’ll get back on here and post an odd family saying after I stop marveling at this blast from the past!


Welmoed February 1, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Gosh, we have so many…

“It’s your choice!” — spoken in a syrupy, sarcastic voice. Meaning, you’d be an idiot to choose that. Comes from “The Mad Show”, a 1970s stage show based on MAD Magazine.

“Hoffuj Sunny Eyes” (Hot Fudge Sundae eyes) — eyes with very large pupils, usually due to tiredness. From the comic strip “Rose is Rose”, where the character Pasquale can dilate his pupils just by saying it.

“Lurch!” — said when someone suddenly changes the topic during a conversation, usually when something difficult is being discussed. Not sure of the origin but we’ve been using it for years.

“You have lovely children.” — said when someone repeats a story or otherwise says something that they have already said multiple times. Origin was my mother-in-law, who, unbeknownst to us, had early-stage Alzheimers, and said this phrase to use repeatedly during one weekend visit.


JessB February 2, 2013 at 1:19 am

My brother and sisters and I say ‘molly polish’ for nail polish. I recently overheard my Dad telling people a story about how we said this because my littlest sister, who is 11 years younger than me, once painted the fingers of my favourite doll, Molly, with nail polish. I decided not to spoil the moment of a story well told, but that wasn’t it at all!

It was a basic mispronunciation of ‘nail polish by my little sister, and nothing more sinister. I still have Molly, and believe me, I would have noticed if her nails had been painted!


DannieB February 2, 2013 at 10:45 am

Nutsy Fagan – a term of family endearment used by my father, when we were being silly or cute.
I’ve seen various explanations in the urban/slang dictionaries, but my father’s story, and I’m sticking to it, was a childhood classmate by the name of Fagan, who was “not quite right.” He was actually quite embarrassed by the memory, when pressed for the origin of the term.


George P. Farris February 2, 2013 at 11:06 am

Karen, have I ever denied you anything? OK, here goes.

• We’re off like a thundering herd of turtles! — Used to indicate we’re late!

• Sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite! — A wish for good sleep from the days of rope supports, and real bugs.

When raising the children abroad on assignment led to a plethora of adopted words and phrases.

• Our daughter’s first words were “baba-bobo” which means crazy in Thai. Long ago the use of “baba-bobo” has replaced crazy in our family vocabulary.

…Ad infintum



Kerry Scott February 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm

“Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” has been in my family for many years too. In fact, the above-referenced chief pilot was the one who broke the news to me that bedbugs are an actual thing (because our flight crews were encountering them in some of the hotels we put them in). I thought he was pulling my leg until I googled it.


Margaret February 5, 2013 at 6:17 pm

I heard the “bed bugs bite” saying while growing up, but with my kids the good night mantra became “Good night, sleep tight, wake up bright in the morning light and do what’s right with all…your…might.” This came from some children’s board book I used to read to them. (I still get warm, fuzzy feelings thinking about it.) I wish I could cite the title and author, but that was long ago and the book got donated. (sigh)


Kerry Scott February 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I have some children’s books I’ll never be able to donate because we’re so sentimentally attached to them.


Caron Brennan February 2, 2013 at 11:28 am

“it’s your day to have a good time” usually said to someone making a questionable decision, sort of like “whatever” with the eye roll.

Also, my grandmother told my sister and I when we were acting goofy “don’t get eggy or I’ll scramble you!” We could never figure out where that came from , but it would send us into gales of laughter and still does.


Sierra Pope February 2, 2013 at 12:56 pm


My dad’s aunt Mabel was visiting and we went to the Washington monument. Imagine a little Italian woman about 80. She was applying sunscreen and put so much on that her entire face was white. From then on, when you put too much sunscreen on we used her name. “You are Mabel-ed.” I always forget that is not a word in the dictionary.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo February 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

“Pulling a Laurie” or “Who pulled a Laurie?” This refers to my sister. When she was little she would always leave one cookie in a package, or one ounce of milk in the carton, or one pickle in the jar etc. so that a) she wouldn’t be accused of eating all the cookies or b) she was too lazy to throw the package away or c)She wouldn’t have to wash up the container etc. etc. This saying has made it’s way all through the family to the next generation, and even to Spain, where my husband has shared it with his family over there. You can still hear someone open the fridge and shout “Who pulled a Laurie!” when they see there is one spoon of ice cream left in a carton…


Rondina February 2, 2013 at 5:56 pm

‘Guy-guy.’ A guy operating large construction equipment. I used to take my son out and we would watch construction and I would teach him the names of all the equipment. I guess I wanted him to go into construction so he could help me renovate houses, but no, he is a classical guitarist. There is no way I’d let him near my own equipment now. Can I insure his hands? There are others, but the explanations would be too involved.


Kathleen Naylor February 2, 2013 at 10:07 pm

I know we say “Tondeleo!” at the beach when a large wave is coming because my great-grandmother did, but I don’t know why she started doing so. (I just googled to see if it was some more universal reference that I was unfamiliar with, but couldn’t find anything.)


Susan Partlan February 2, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Let’s see, there was “I love you AND I like you” to help reinforce that there were times when those two weren’t always convergent, and that this was perfectly fine, and, my favorite, please sing me ALL twelve lullabyes (as if I ever skipped!).


Debi Austen February 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm

“Winterbrook in cans” which is used when you should be really excited about something but just aren’t. I was at Costco with my daughter when she was about 14 – you know how girls can be at that age. We were buying supplies for camping and when I went to pick up some soda, I saw that they had Winterbrook flavored sparkling water in cans rather than just the bottles I’d always seen them in. I was a little giddy yet disappointed because my daughter wasn’t at all excited about it. I called her on it and she said “what am I supposed to do? Yell woo hoo, Winterbrook in cans?”

“I couldn’t give it much” which is used when something didn’t quite meet expectations. My grandmother always used this phrase and I’ve never forgotten it.

“OB” (O and then B) which is short for oblivious. My husband and I use that as a code when someone is walking in front of us and won’t move to one side or the other so we can get by.

I could go on and on forever…….


Suzanne Lucas February 5, 2013 at 6:39 am

We say random words in German in the middle of our English sentences.

“I’d rather stick pins in my eyes,” to indicate we really don’t want to do something. It’s a good visual!

“We just sell tractors here!” is used when someone is scared to ask a question. It originates from a time my husband and daughter were out skiing and she needed a bathroom. He told her to go ask where the closest bathroom was. She was terrified, so he said, “What do you think they are going to say? ‘We won’t tell you where the bathroom is, silly girl! We only sell tractors here!”


Rondina February 6, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Kerry, I just caught your statement about donating children’s books. I was at one point a librarian at a Montessori school, and later, a children’s bookseller. I just kept the ones they loved. All 15 boxes. Would one of my offspring please have a child!


Kerry Scott February 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm

The irony is that my oldest now has a Kindle (because I got a new one and gave her my old one). She loves it and reads three times as much as she did before…but man, it’s different to buy her books and have them beamed to a device. It does keep the bookshelves here neater though.


Rondina February 6, 2013 at 5:02 pm

OMG! You mean I might be stuck with these? I can just hear it now.

Mom: May I donate these to super-needy kids that have never seen a book?
Child 1, 2, or 3: NO! Absolutely not. I remember you reading that to me. No, don’t even think about it. I want to give it to my grandchildren. They may not have Kindles! But I don’t have any place to store them.
Mom: That’s not happy. (Another of my family’s sayings that I feel needs no explanation.)


DannieB February 6, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Kerry, these memories may give rise to another thread – those lovingly remembered items from our childhood that disappeared – to the school white elephant sale or the regional equivalent. My dolls were mostly spared, but many items went to the annual school carnival “fish pond.”


Kerry Scott February 7, 2013 at 8:45 am

Ooo, good idea!


Natalie Parker February 6, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Wow, reading through the comments I almost forgot the topic of the post and to scroll back up lol. One of our family sayings was “ohdamntoobadjoe”, (yeah, one word), which came from their time spent in Baton Rouge, and possibly a Benny Hill sketch. But on the topic of aging books, I bought my 8 year old a kindle and she reads even more now than she already did. She even set some older books aside for donation, which is totally out of character for her.


Kerry Scott February 7, 2013 at 8:44 am

I am amazed at how much more my second-grader wants to read with the Kindle. I thought the novelty would wear off, but it’s been a couple of months and it hasn’t. If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to donate Kindles to every kid in my school district.


JL February 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I think my mother’s a treasure trove of sayings from her childhood in the South but she keeps them well hidden. I’ve asked her to write a list but for some reason she won’t. I have to listen close.

One of my favorites, and I use it whenever possible: [a dress, coat, whatever] so thin you could spit through it


Cali February 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm

In our house the saying is “two biscuits in the cup”. My grandparents were German and spoke a mix of German and English. When my oldest sister was about 4, she did something foolish and my grandfather said to her “Du bis verruct in der kopt”. Translates as “you are crazy in the head.” My sister, a few days later, turned the tables on him when he did something foolish. But her reply to him was “Opah, you have 2 biscuits in the cup”. 75 years later it’s still a standard saying between us siblings.


C.T. Kruger March 14, 2013 at 8:36 pm

My Dad would pronounce “The Tabernacle will fall off the wall.” if he and his seven kids made it to Mass – or anywhere – on time.


Colleen March 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Hello! I have enjoyed reading your blog for some time & have nominated you for the Liebster Award. Please read my blog on Thursday, March 28 to read the rules, etc. Please keep posting! Colleen


Kerry Scott March 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Thank you very much!


Jill May 7, 2013 at 6:09 am

We had a saying we used when we got tangled in the weeds and my parents got tired of going back and forth. On the one hand… on the other hand… on the other hand… She had a wart. That stopped the discussion.


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