Thursday, November 4, 2010


Millie writes:

Since I'm a Linguistics nerd, speech development was one of my favorite parts of my kids' early childhoods.

I really enjoyed those days (sometimes stretching into weeks) where a kid had made up a word or a phrase that obviously meant something, since they kept repeating it with increasing degrees of emphasis – trouble was, whatever they were saying was not in Standard English. Figuring out that “Agg-n!” meant “I would like to drink some apple juice now, please!” to six-month-old Joy was a triumph worthy of Professor Higgins.

More lasting, though, were the words and phrases that were just so darned CUTE they entered our family lexicon forever. My siblings and I still call tools “dookooz” because that's how our baby brother said it; I won't tell you what else he called them because he learned that particular word from watching our Dad work on the washing machine. My baby brother is now a 37 year old mechanic with a barn full of equipment and four kids of his own, but I still have to catch myself: “Sassy, I need to hang a picture; will you bring me the doo- the toolbox, please?”

A child's early phrases can give you a great deal of insight into his character. When Rocky was going through the Terrible Twos he'd say, “Help me do it myself!” which under the circumstances was remarkably polite; so was Red's strangely formal, “I don't feel good to do dat right now.” Both of these phrases work equally well for 20-somethings, I'm glad to report.

Sassy was apparently one of those babies who sat regally on a cushion and allowed her subjects to bring her their offerings, so it wasn't necessary for her to learn to talk until she was about 10 months old. Her first words were spoken at Rocky's parent/teacher conference; she was sitting in majestic splendor in her stroller, Lance and Bertha and Rocky were talking to the teacher and Bender was horsing around (loudly) in the courtyard outside the classroom. Sassy drew herself up to her full seated height, pointed a chubby finger towards the window and intoned, “Sh'up, Bee.”

When Jack was learning the fine points of language – oh, around 4 and 5 years of age – he made connections that were perfectly logical in retrospect, but convulsed the rest of us with laughter. His particular genius was in making a singular form of a word that hadn't originally been plural. For example, he'd scratch his ear, look at his finger and say, “Oh, look! An earwack!” Once he was helping one of his brothers look for his other tennis shoe and asked me, “Have you seen Rocky's other Conver?” It's no surprise to me, therefore, that today the kid doesn't even blink at calculus but needs a calculator to do multiplication. He's just got that type of mind.

Of course, they come by it naturally. Apparently Lance didn't speak at all until he was practically a year old, and then his first verbal communication was to Minnie, a little old neighbor lady who gave him a treat whenever she saw him. He toddled away from his mama and up to the gate, gazed up through his long Bambi eyelashes and cooed, “Min-nie? Cook-ie?” He still only speaks when it's something of vital importance like that. My entire extended family calls those picnic pests “Answer Bugs” because of 1-year-old Millie; I pointed at one and said, “What's that?” Mom answered, “That's a bug.” “Nuh-uh, it's a ANT!” “Well,” Mom explained patiently, “ants are bugs!” “Ohhhh, answer bugs!”

Makes sense to me.

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