Journey of a word, idiolectically understood

I had a frustration the other day.
It came, like many of my frustrations, from my using Duolingo. I was reviewing a lesson focusing on ‘family’ vocabulary, and I was translating from English to Greek. I made a mistake, but the nature of the mistake annoyed me.
I misread a word. Simple as that.
But it was really annoying, but it got me thinking. The misread word was Godfather, which I will never in my life read correctly as long as I live. Or at least more specifically, I will never read it correctly in the context of family. Here is the thing, when I grew up, there were no ‘godfathers’ or ‘godmothers‘. They just didn’t exist, and for that matter neither did any ‘padrini’ or ‘madrine’1. It was not a concept that existed in the universe of my understanding. Sure, I had seen the god-damned movie. But that was the extent of what I thought of it, I thought it was a pseudo-mythical figure of Italian-American cinema used to sound intimidating and that was that. I had no expectation that these were meant to be extant figures to whom one should send Christmas Cards to every year.
Imagine my reaction then when, maybe seven years ago now, my older brother asked me to be his first child’s godparent short after the child’s birth. I looked at him like he was insane. As far as my conception was concerned, Godfather’s were not real. But my brother always had a thing for mob-movies, so I politely reminded my brother that I was a loser with no prospects for the future, and bowed out of the duties.
I was about thirty years old, and this was the first time anyone had ever mentioned the term Godfather outside of a mafia context.
A few years later, another friend asked me for the same favor. I was still as much, if not more so, of a prospect-less loser, and I bowed out for the same reason. But this time it led to a longer conversation about the word, and the validity of the referent in question. ‘Godfathers’ it would seem, actually exist.
I still didn’t believe it. In fact, I am not sure I ever really can. For my idiolect, it really is the equivalent of everybody one day telling me that yea, unicorns exist, they have all thirty-seven years of your life, and have you just not ever been to the god damned zoo?
Admitting you are wrong is hard, but I have gotten good at it. I’m wrong all the fucking time. These unicorns exist I guess. Turns out I had one too, but my mother has the same disregard for religion and tradition that I do, and thus when pressed on the matter of who the fuck these people were, she drew a blank. I am frankly just happy on all the Christmas cards I didn’t have to send whoever the fuck these people were.
But the illegitimacy of the word ‘Godfather’ and ‘Godmother‘ are deeply ingrained in my head. I can’t shake it. When I see the sentence “My g-father is reading the newspaper”, my brain will just never expect it to be ‘godfather’.


1 We are Italians. We speak both English and Italian in my family.

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