peek-a-boo, beebo

The special vocabulary that adults use in talking to babies has the potential to be very family-specific. After all, you're talking to a baby, who can't talk back (yet) and who's getting little other language input outside the family, so why not just make things up? We've got a number of 'inside jokes' that we use with Grover. For example, despite her lady-like appearances, Grover is a very farty baby. We started out saying poot poot when we heard the reports from down south. Then we'd say Are you pootin'? And this has turned into Is that you, Vladimir? So now, Vladimir = farty baby. And then there's the fact that we say knickerschnitz whenever Grover sneezes, which goes back to my brothers convincing (well, almost) my sister-in-law that this is what the English say instead of Gesundheit (which is, in fact, more popular in the US than in the UK).

But at the same time, babytalk is remarkably widespread within a culture--though the ocean often gets in the way of a generic, international babytalk. When talking to babies, we call cats kitties and wounds (orig. AmE) boo-boos. There's (BrE) bicky for (BrE) biscuit and (chiefly AmE) choo-choo for a train. And so on and so forth.

So, when I hear Better Half or his family using new-to-me babytalk, I'm never sure if it's something that's part of their 'family-lect' or more generally part of BrE. Since there may be a natural tendency to view one's in-laws as strange ('they're a family, but they don't do thing the way my family does!'), I tend to assume that their babytalk is 'theirs' until I hear someone else use it. Such was the case with (BrE) windy-pops, which came up in the comments back here. Now, I've found another case.

When I play the game Peek-a-boo with a baby, I hide my face, then show it suddenly and say Peek-a-boo! in a sing-song voice. Sometimes I vary it and say "Here I am!" or "There you are!", which follow the same three-syllable tune. And that's the only way that I've known the game.

But when BH's mother plays it, she says Beebo! I make a mental note to say peek-a-boo twice as much later, to reassert my influence (Jealous? Moi?), and put it down to her own creativity. Then I heard BH's sister say it, and I figured that she learned it from her mother. But then...we had a picnic in hono(u)r of Grover's half-birthday with other parents and babies, and I heard another mother say Peebo! So, yet another occasion on which I learn with disappointment (but, alas, not surprise) that I'm the strange one, not my in-laws.

The Wikipedia entry on peek(-)a(-)boo mentions nothing about alternative
exclamations, but the OED mentions peep-bo and bo-peep. I've also found this line from a London blogger, indicating that the variation in interjections is well known in these parts:
We've been playing beebo, peepo, peekaboo, whatever you want to call it for months.
So, am I right in thinking that most Americans stick to peek-a-boo? Are there other alternatives?

And is Better Half the only person who calls hands pandies or is that general BrE babytalk? (AmE snowclone): Enquiring babies want to know!
I know this derives from the nursery rhyme Handy Pandy, but I'm wondering about pandy on its own.


  1. My Kentucky relatives all say "peep-pie" instead of "peekaboo."

    We moved to the UK when our oldest was not quite 2, and it was intriguing to watch him respond to friendly strangers who assumed he spoke their dialect. "Did you see the nee-naws?" a kindly older lady might ask. He was delighted by fire trucks, but had no idea what a nee-naw might be.

  2. My MIL, born and raised here in Massachusetts, always said "Peek". It drove me nuts that I thought she just didn't know the right way to say it! Growing up in the UK, I heard people say "Pee-po." The parents and daycare staff I hear saying it, say "Peek-a-boo".

    Haven't heard handy-pandies in years!

  3. Gosh this is hard - I hadn't really thought about it before, but I think I've always thought I was saying 'Peep-ho' to the babies in my British English. If it's any consolation, they soon get bored of this game and you won't have to worry about it for much longer! 'Windy-pops' is horrible and I hadn't ever heard of this phrase until my mother-in-law started using it around my babies. Must be a regional thing...

  4. Pandy to me suggests the pandybat repeatedly mentioned by Joyce in A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (1915, but reflecting events of 1890 or so); a bat (a leather strap), I suppose, for hitting someone on the hand with.

  5. My mother (British, Buckinghamshire, born in the 40s) has never to my knowledge said 'pandies', but used as a child (and as baby-talk to us as children) to say 'dannies' -- presumably 'and -> dan (by metathesis) -> diminutive of dan.

    She also used:

    oddny-doddny = 'snail' (I believe the OED has an entry for hodman-dodman, meaning 'snail'.)

    wopsies = 'wasps' (Also metathesis + diminutive ending, but note that wæps as well as wæsp is perfectly good Old English.)

    teggies = 'teeth'. I really don't know where this one comes from. I've heard someone from Lancashire use the phrase 'toothy-pegs', so I guess it could be a contraction from that (or something similar). Alternatively, teggr is a recorded Old Norse form for 'tooth', and we've got enough words from Old Norse in standard English (like 'sky' and 'egg') that that might be a possibility...

  6. I (AmE) had never heard of any variant of 'peek-a-boo' till now.

  7. Loved the tale of how Vladimir came to stand for farty baby. (I wonder: do you pronounce it VlaDImir à la russe, or VLADimir as most English-speakers seem to say it?)

    Although fascinated by trans-Atlantic language comparisons (which is why I can't tear myself away from this blog), I'd never really thought of baby-talk differences before.

    I know I added a whole new field of vocabulary to my French when I stayed with a French family with small children:
    - C'est l'heure de faire dodo (Time to go bye-byes)
    - Regarde le dada! (Look at the gee-gee!)
    and so on, but I thought that the bobo in
    - Ah, tu t'es fait bobo? (Oh, did you hurt yourself?)
    had no English-language equivalent. But you mention "boo-boos" with the note (orig. AmE): so does that mean that it's now BrE too? (Have no little ones around small enough for me to check this with any more!)

    By the way, I think choo-choo has always been BrE too -- though it does always seem to me daft when I hear adults say to toddlers "here comes the choo-choo" as an electric or diesel train approaches. I did once hear a small child protest "it's not a choo-choo. It's a nee-aaaaow". (The cartoonist Steve Bell, who has an excellent ear for onomatopeia, always has idling diesel engines going "boggle-boggle" -- and they do!)

    By the way, it was "dannies" (hand-hand > and-and > dan-dan) in our house (these things are sure to survive when both partners have "inherited" the same baby words) and "beep-po" for the peeping game.

  8. I heard "teggies" or "teggeties" for "teeth" from my father, too, when I was small.

    (He's originally from Leicester, but I don't know whether the expression comes from there, too.)

  9. "Pandies" sounds like faux rhyming slang to me - as in (H)Andy Pandy. Look Andy Pandy up on Wikipedia if you want to get the potential relevance of that.

  10. Growing up ScE in Glasgow, I only ever heard "peek-a-boo," often contracted to "peek" or even "keek", which I long thought was a fatherism but which turns out to be Scots and probably (my own assumptions here rather than proper research) related to the Dutch "kijk" and perhaps Bavarian dialect "gucken" (the first G gets a K sound).

  11. Wiktionary has confirmed for me the cognatoriness (sorry) of keek, kijken and gucken, although it spells the latter as kucken and gives it as German rather than specifically Bavarian.

  12. We (British) said "Peep-Bo!" or occasionally "Peep-Boo!" and I find "Peek-a-boo" very American.

    "Choo-choo" is surely just as British as it is American? And I think I (in my 50s) grew up with "pussy", rather than "kitty", but that one, of course, was rather knocked on the head by Mrs Slocombe in "Are you being served"....

  13. Kevin, we pronounce Vladimir in the English way, which is a shame, really, since Better Half lived for a year in Moscow.

    I think faire dodo is better translated as 'to go night-night', isn't it? I understood that dodo was babytalk for dormir.

    Kevin & Mrs Redboots, the OED is with me on choo choo. (Generally when I write 'orig. AmE' or 'chiefly AmE', the adverb belongs to the OED.) Nowadays, you probably hear it more, but not as much as you'd hear it in America. The older BrE alternative might be less popular, but here's a quotation from the OED on it:

    "1927 W. E. COLLINSON Contemp. Eng. 7 Trains are still called puff-puffs or puffers as against the American onomatope choo-choo."

    I just read this to BH, and he recogni{s/z}es puff-puff, so it's not dead yet.

  14. >> I think faire dodo is better translated as 'to go night-night', isn't it? I understood that dodo was babytalk for dormir. <<

    Well, you understood right about the meaning of dodo, Lynne, but... dormir is what " go bye-byes" means too! Hence: "Night-night, time for bye-byes", and little children's "Want bye-byes" (I want to go to sleep). Shows just how nuanced little children's understanding of language can be that they know the difference between "say bye-bye" and "go bye-byes"!

    As for choo-choos vs. puff-puffs (only vaguely heard of the latter), well: 1927 was a very long time ago, even for someone as long in the tooth as me..! :)

  15. Perhaps we've discovered another dialectal difference, then. I don't use bye-byes (with the -s), and when I use bye-bye, it's never for sleep. In fact, it sounds morbid to me to say (good)bye when someone's going to sleep--so I superstitiously would not say bye-bye when putting a baby to bed. (Also wouldn't want the baby to think I was going away.)

  16. Lynne, your mention of your three-syllable tune reminded me of work by Colwyn Trevarthen on what he called "motherese". As far as I can remember, he claimed that the intonation patterns mothers use are universal, and cross cultural and linguistic boundaries.

    The work dates from the 1970s and 80s, I think, and I can't find the original material on the web, though Sussex University Library has Before Speech: The Beginning of Interpersonal Communication, edited by M. Bullowa, which looks like it has one of the relevant papers by Trevarthen. I don't know how his conclusions are viewed now, but he seems to be cited quite a lot, in areas such as music therapy.

    Anyway, I think he'd say you'd sing the same tune whether you're American, British, or of any other nationality.

  17. Thanks, David--I'm sure that's right. But if you're saying "Pee-bo" (etc.), then it's only two syllables--so slightly different.

  18. My husband and I both learned the song that has "Down by the station early in the morning see the puffer billies all in a row" we thought it was referring to trains. He grew up in Wisconsin and I in Oregon.

    I first noticed on Saturday Night Live that Bye Bye sounded like Buh Bye and I hear myself saying it that way also.

  19. Should you wish Grover to grow up truly bilingual, Lynne, you might want to consider buying two copies of a book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. In the UK it is published under the title "Peepo!", and in the US under the title "Peek-a-boo!"

  20. Like Amanda I always said Peep-ho.

    I haven't heard Pandies for years but that's maybe becasue I moved away from the midlands (UK). In Birmingham though they say donnies which I have never heard here in the southwest.

    And we used peggies for teeth, wopsies for wasps, bye-byes for bedtime.

    Amazing what you remember after all these years, (I didn't have any children of my own)

  21. It was (and likely still is) "peep-eye!" instead of peek-a-boo where I grew up in coastal North Carolina.

  22. Just to add, on the bye-bye / bye-byes question, that you wouldn't really be saying "goodbye", because -- as I should have mentioned -- there is of course a major stress-pattern difference between say bye-BYE and go BYE-byes (sometimes: beddy-byes).

    For American use of beddy-byes see this page from, one of my favourite blogs (you wouldn't believe how much sardonic fun can be got from old knitting and sewing patterns) which has now turned into a book -- just as all the best blogs, like your own, eventually do!

    P.S. If Steve Bell has an excellent ear for onomatopes (hey: I've learned a new word this morning), I've got a poor eye for my own typos: I meant to write that diesel engines go "boggler-boggler".

  23. RE Vladimir: When our son was little, he occasionally suffered from digestive events that we named Blanche, in a fit of Midwestern U.S. babytalk rhyming slang. I'll spare you the clinical details, but it's affected my reaction to Streetcar Named Desire ever since.

  24. "Puff-puff" is certainly not dead (and the song "Down by the station/early in the morning" was known here in the 1950s, too), but "choo-choo" was certainly also used in Great Britain in the 1950s.

    As for the 2-syllable nature of "peep-bo!" compared with the American "peek-a-boo"; we would say a long-drawn out "Peeeeeeeep" while hiding from the baby (dress or towel between us!) and then a "boo!" when removing it - something the baby quickly learnt to do for him or herself so it became the first interactive game they played.

  25. Catching up after a nice day away from the web...

    Kevin, a-ha. Yes, I say beddy-bye, but I've never associated it with bye-bye. I think of it as a baby name for bed, rather than a 'good bye'. So, I might say go to beddy-bye (rather than go beddy-bye), but I'm much more likely to say go night-night. I'd only say go bye-bye for a journey.

    the-sybil: what a great demonstration of the differences in babytalk! I wonder whether there are AmE/BrE editors out there speciali{s/z}ing in babytalk! :)

    A further thought on playing peek-a-boo. In the American version, people often say "Peek-a-boo! I see you!"--which, of course, wouldn't rhyme (or scan) in most of the BrE versions we've been hearing about. Is there any extended version of Peepo?

  26. I think Kevin's point was that for people who use go bye-byes there is no connection with leave-taking bye-bye - certainly for me there isn't. They don't sound the same (there is a difference in stress and the -s is always present in go bye-byes) and they mean different things. It had never even struck me before that there could be any confusion, or even that they were spelled the same.

  27. For me, the stress is different in 'go bye-bye' (babytalk) and 'Bye-bye' (adult leave-taking), but the former is definitely based on the latter. So the difference here is that I don't have 'bye-byes' at all--and don't know it in AmE, and therefore when I read it, I associated it with leave-taking.

    But I think we all understand each other now!

  28. I was going to clarify too, but I think there is an understanding now!

    re family-lect: may I submit oikolect?

  29. No-one has picked up on your remark about gesundheit being more widely-used in the US than the UK. Surely that's because it is seen as a foreign word - we don't have the history of German immigration that the Mid-West and other parts of North America have.

    If a baby sneezed, I would say 'achoo!' to mimic the sound and to begin a dialogue, and for an older child or adult one can say 'bless you' - which I guess is what Gesundheit means anyway.

    Speaking of mimicry, 'nee-naw' for fire engine only applies to those with the loud siren - what on earth did we call them when they had a regular bell on top?

  30. "one can say 'bless you' - which I guess is what Gesundheit means anyway."

    That depends on what you mean by 'mean'...Gesundheit is German for 'health', but of course, its effect in English is the same as 'bless you'...acknowledging a sneeze in a polite (and vaguely superstitious) way. Most Americans wouldn't know its German meaning.

  31. My mother was nine when her younger sister was born and so she has retained funny things that my aunt said when she was little, like "glah-bess" for one, instead of "god bless", and which was used by my aunt in prayers before bed, but which my mom uses instead of "bless you". (See it does tie in.)

    Our family has always called the raspberries, blown into babies' bellies, boobahs and so I was surprised that there was a British children's show by the same name. (Embarrasingly phallic creatures, has anyone else noticed?). Does Boobah mean anything else in England?

  32. I was in the (BrE) shop today and the lady in front of me was buying a vial of something called "Gripe Water", which appeared to be some sort of remedy for baby's indigestion (as I have just confirmed on Wikipedia). As an American I have never heard of such a concoction, and it leaves me wondering if there is a particular bowel-related complaint that is known as "gripe" in the UK, thus necessitating treatment by "gripe water". Further, if this is the case, which came first, the quasi-medical complaint, or the generic sense of "gripe" which I'm accustomed to (i.e. griping about one's job or the general cruelty of modern existence)?

    (Late and off-topic, I know, and apologi{z/s}e, but my void of knowledge consumes me.)

  33. Topic changes are best requested by e-mail, so it'll have its own entry. In this case, it's not that gripe is BrE-only, just that it's a really old-fashioned word--probably kept alive in the UK by the continued use of gripe water to help gassy/windy babies. The AHD prefers this sense of gripe in the plural: "gripes Sharp, spasmodic pains in the bowels."

    Gripe water is basically water with dill in it, so your baby smells like a pickle. We used it for a while, then switched to the more modern remedy, Infacol.

  34. Infacol? Are you joking? This sounds like alcohol for babies. As in, "I poured myself a scotch and gave the baby her infacol so we could both relax."

  35. Terrific, thanks for the response. As Anne suggests, pour the little one a pint of Infacol on me.

  36. I found your blog by googling about "Peek-a-boo" and looking to see what one says in German for this. (For those who want to know, it seems to be "guck-guck" which is "look,look". Makes sense. In any case, I am so glad I found the blog. As half of a husband and wife pair of German teachers, linguistic stuff is what we love.

    I am also delighted to know that someone else refers to their farting baby as Vladimir, although we typically use it for a pooping baby. (Pooting has this meaning for us.) My niece thought I was crazy when I asked my son "Is that you, Vladimir?"

    As well, although I don't have British relatives to contend with, my in-laws are from southern Virginia, and through them, I have gotten to learn a lot of "new words." Among baby words I had never heard, I have recently encountered them consistently calling a blanket a "lovey." Not sure if this something I just wasn't privvy to or what....

  37. Hello! I know that this post is from months ago, so probably no one will read it... But I'm going to add my comment anyway. So. Even before Mrs. Redboots mentioned Mrs. Slocombe, I had the phrase "handy pandies" in my mind, in a singsong British voice, and I knew that since I couldn't have heard it on To The Manor Born or Keeping Up Appearances or As Time Goes By, it MUST have been from Are You Being Served.
    I think.
    But I'm a 19 year old American college student who just listens to the BBC online a lot and watches all the Britcoms to be gound on Youtube. So I don't know if it is much of an indication of the longevity of the word/phrase.

    Anyway, this blog is WONDERFUL. I'm having great fun reading through it! So thank you!


  38. Julia again--
    I found the clip. @ 6min45 sec. (about)

  39. as regards 'faire le dodo', in my part of lancashire a 'dodo' is what we call a 'dummy' BrE/pacifier Am/E

  40. I am so pleased to have found someone else who has been confused by 'peebo'! I've searched for this term before and hadn't found anything. I am from the UK and so is my husband, I have always said Peek-a-boo (I come from SE England) and had never heard of peebo, but all his family say it! I've also now noticed my grandparents, who are originally from the same area my in-laws are, though the rest of the family moved away, also say peebo, so I think it must be a local dialect from Portsmouth and surrounds. They also all say 'ta!' in a really over-emphasised way when they want a baby to give them something. I've noticed hubby's friends from the same area do this too... I, like you, make an effort to say peek-a-boo and thank you instead! (Though I know that is futile and silly.)

  41. I'm from Lancashire and hadn't heard peep-bo till my daughter was born while we lived in London. It was always peek-a-boo. I thought it was just a posh thing! I think often northern British dialect gets labelled as American, like our use of pants to mean trousers instead of underpants as in the south.

  42. There is a brilliant baby book by Janet and Allen Ahlberg with the title 'Peepo!' which might have influenced some people. I always said peek-a-boo but my husband's family are all about peebo.

  43. Dutch has "kiekeboe" [keek-eh-booh] -- haven't heard any local variations of that. Same difference really.

  44. Has anyone heard of keek a bo, a scots word and what part of scotland use it?


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)