Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Language

I love the way my kids use and abuse the English language. Their misunderstandings and malapropisms are so revealing of the way their minds work.

For example, for the longest time, Graham insisted on having "canoe water" every time he wanted to drink. We understood this meant that he wanted fresh, cold water, and not what had been sitting in his blue, aluminum water bottle for the last hour or more. Somewhere in his little brain he must have had the "new" sound filed away, but the similar word canoe, reinforced by our daily reading of one of his favorite Things That Go books, was more familiar. The book spread that features the canoe is even titled "On the Water," so the semantic link was firmly established. Canoe water. Makes perfect sense!

Another really funny one happened one morning as we drove around town doing errands. "Mommy," Esme suddenly piped, "I hope we don't get one of dem tomato storms Daddy was talking about last night."

I was baffled. "What did you say?" I probably had her repeat her statement three or four times just to make sure I'd understood. Then I remembered. The night before at dinner, the weather had been threatening, and I think Dave had gotten a notification that there were tornado warnings somewhere in our area. We spent a few minutes talking about tornados and why they're so dangerous and what we would do if one touched down nearby. And all the while, our Esme thought we were discussing a storm of tomatoes. It's a vivid picture, isn't it?

Sometimes we have a kid who intentionally misunderstands someone's words. This is usually Matthew, and it's often for the sake of humor. Meg and I recently discovered the outstanding children's author Meindert deJong and devoured a couple of his books. (If you're a lit lover and you've never read The Wheel on the School, you really must do so.) "I just finished The House of Sixty Fathers," Meg told me one afternoon. "What did you say?" squawked Matthew. "The Horse of Stinky Feathers?"

(When Dave heard this story, he had both Meg and Matthew illustrate their own Horse of Stinky Feathers. I wish I still had their sketches and could show them to you here. They were quite amusing.)

Graham also has a trick of creating new words by blending old ones. "Dootagain" is fairly obvious; it's what he says when he wants us to repeat something fun or funny. And his special name for his sleeping buddy--a certain stuffed Big Red Dog--is "Cliffruff." This, of course, is Clifford combined with ruff, the sound that a dog makes. We had always called him Clifford, but Graham just started saying Cliffruff one day, and it stuck.

I feel like there is one more Graham-made compound word that I've been meaning to include in this post, and I cannot for the life of me think what it is... gah! Maybe I'll come back and add it when I remember it. In the meantime, we'll keep having fun with language here at the Wilcox home.

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