5 Secret Languages That Stuck It to the Man

#2. The Chinese Women-Only Language


It wasn't that fun to be a woman in 19th century China. Foot binding (the art of smashing your feet in the name of fashion) was extremely common, and girls were often confined to hobbling around single rooms on the upper story of their house. To add to the other difficulties associated with basically being Rapunzel, women couldn't even pass the time with a dog-eared copy of 50 Shades of Grey, being that nobody ever bothered to teach them how to read. In the Jiangyong Province, women reacted to this situation by simply creating their own written language.

"I'd say thank you to your wife, but I don't speak woman."

How Did They Do It?

Nushu, or "women's language," was a women-only alphabet handed down from mother to daughter. The most common form of nushu was the "third day" letter, which women sent to each other after a bride moved into her husband's home after marriage. These letters, understandably, usually contained words of consolation for the sorrowful new bride before she was to spend the rest of her life in Smashed Foot Tower.

The alphabet was often embroidered into cloth or painted on fans, which were then exchanged between female relatives and friends. Many nushu characters (there are about 1,000 in all) come from embroidery patterns, along with a few elements of Chinese characters probably picked up from watching boys take lessons.

Via Elgalgolucas.com
Which is why so many of these look like doodles of dicks.

In regular Chinese, each character is kind of its own word, representing a whole concept. But nushu characters are more like English letters, representing sounds. So the languages were different enough that Chinese women could exchange letters and erotic fiction without their husbands knowing what they were up to, kind of like how spammers started spelling "porn" as "p0rn" with a zero to get around word filters.

The language was stamped out in the 20th century when the Communists decided that they didn't like it, and women started being allowed to learn to read in their native language -- in 2002, it was believed that only one woman alive still knew how to write it.

Via James Bear / For The Times
And no one has any idea what she's saying.

#1. The U.S. Town With Its Own Language


Boontling is a language that's only spoken in one small town on Earth. It's not some remote African tribe, though -- we're talking about Boonville, Northern California. Back in the 1800s, farming families settled in the Anderson Valley of California and took up rural pursuits like logging and fishing. For reasons that are now lost to the sands of time, the residents of Boonville started to make up new words for things so that people from outside the town couldn't understand what they were saying.

Whether it started as a harmless prank or small-town paranoia, Boontling eventually grew into its own bona fide language, and Boonville became the only place on Earth where you can find signs like this:

Via Makenzine.com
It means exactly what you ... think it ... means?

How Did They Do It?

As time marched on, like with many languages, Boontling leaked and mixed with the native speakers' English, becoming part of the town's natural way of speaking. Fascinated linguists have composed lists of the hundreds of unique words in Boontling, and they get pretty bizarre -- a "great beer" in Boonville is "aplenty bahl steinber horn," and if your horse has a particularly comfortable saddle, you might be heard to quip "It's a slow lope'n a beeson tree." No, we don't get it either, but it wouldn't be a very good secret language if we did.

Since the language is considered a valuable part of American history, there is some concern that it's beginning to die out. However, the few remaining speakers of it seem intent on keeping it alive -- to sell beer. And judging by how much they drink, it's likely that most people who come into contact with it just assume that the entirety of the town is too shitfaced to speak properly.

C. Coville's non-funny ebook for foreigners, 750 Things I Wish They'd Told Me About America, is available here. Karl has a Facebook, Twitter and a website.

For more reasons Webster should let us write dictionaries, check out 6 Words That Need to Be Banned from the English Language and The 10 Coolest Foreign Words The English Language Needs.

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