A conversation about manners, in which D. (age 4), learns about homophones:
D.: Do meerkats’ mommies teach them manners?
MRP: No, meerkats are animals. Animals don’t really have manners.
D.: But meerkats have manners, right?
MRP: No, not really. No manners.
D.: Meerkats have manners!
MRP: No . . . [a light dawns] . . . oh. Meerkats live in Meerkat Manor, but they don’t have manners.
Scene: The kitchen at la Casa de MRP. The sound of scampering as D. (age 3 1/2) rushes in:
D.: Mommy, can you show me that dangly thing in your mouth?
MRP: My uvula?
D.: Is that what yours is called?
D.: What about the dangly thing in my mouth? What is that called?
MRP: Also a uvula.
D.: Oh. [pause] Is everyone’s dangly thing in their mouth called that?
As an aside: Have you ever really looked at your uvula? Considered your uvula? Said the word uvula over and over again? Ever felt that it was about one letter away from being a totally dirty word? And looking it up in the dictionary doesn’t help. Merriam Webster defines it as “the pendent fleshy lobe in the middle of the posterior border of the soft palate.” Um, ew.
If anyone knows the function of the uvula, I’d like to know. I have a feeling that question is just around the corner.
Scene: MRP hands D. (age 3) a banana.
MRP: D., can you say “banana”?
MRP (trying to help): BA-NA-NA.
Recently overheard at la casa de MRP: a number of schoolyard taunts that I haven’t heard since I was a kid running around on the playground in my Zips and Toughskins, and half my classmates were named Jennifer and had long hair and the other half were named Brian and had bowl cuts. These were uttered by S., age 5 1/2:
Miss me, miss me, now you gotta kiss me
Liar, liar, pants on fire
And my personal favorite flashback:
Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater
So here is my question. I didn’t teach these to los niños, I haven’t said or heard these in decades. They learned them on the playground at school. How are these schoolyard taunts handed down through the generations? Is it from one big brother to another? Are they written on the bathroom walls?
If you have a favorite schoolyard taunt you remember, let’s hear it!
Mondegreen alert at la Casa de MRP.
S (age 5): EMBOYAGE!!
MRP: Where did you learn that word?
S: Um . . . it was Disney.
MRP: Oh, you mean “Toy Story”?
MRP: Buzz Lightyear?
MRP: Do you want me to tell you what Buzz is really saying?
S: Yeah, sure.
MRP: He’s saying, “And beyond!”
S: And beyond? Oh, okay.
Two minutes later.
S: EMBOYAGE! EMBOYAGE!! EMBOYAGE!!!
While we’re on the subject of mondegreens, this one was overheard on a walk in MRP’s neighborhood.
S. (age 5): Mom! We have to run by this house!
MRP: Okay! We do? Why?
S.: Because the leaves on those bushes are made of halava!
MRP: They are? Oh my goodness. [pause] What’s halava?
S.: It’s like fire! It will burn you! Halava! Run!
MRP [pondering a moment]: Do you mean hot lava?
S.: Yes! Run!
Note to self: Only known volcano in Metrowest Boston area may be located directly around the corner from MRP’s house.
There are some days you think, “Wow, my 27-month-old is an absolute genius with language. Just listen to all the words he knows.”
Then there are the days you realize that words are still just sounds to him. Some have meaning, some don’t. A lot of times, when you think he is repeating a word you just said, he is really just repeating the sound.
This is most obvious with songs. For instance, “Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?” becomes “Baa baa black sheep, ay ya ya ya woo?” But D. (the aforementioned 27-month-old) doesn’t care. Every song, no matter how mangled the lyrics, ends with lots of clapping and exclamations of “yea!”
I think my favorite example is the way in which something which is very clearly a group of words to me is just one big word to him. For example, I say to him, “Do you want me to carry you?” When he wants to be picked up, he says, “Carryyou!” Or if he wants me to pick up blankie, he says, “Carryyou blankie!”
In another example, I ask him “Do you want to take a shower?” So when someone comes out of the shower, he says, “Daddy all done takeashower.”
But I think he really reached a pinnacle today when he said, “I want to watch Scoobyscoobydoowhereareyou?”
D., who you may remember as the toddler who didn’t say much but then wouldn’t stop talking, is rounding the corner to age 2. And apparently, there’s another word explosion to look forward to in the coming year.
For now, he has plenty of words and occasionally even surprises us with a sentence like “I want it” or “Daddy go.” Most of what he says is only intelligible to people who spend a lot of time with him, which is one of my favorite things about toddler-speak. How many times have you been with a toddler who completely babbled something and the mom says, “Oh, Pancho wants a graham cracker/his blue giraffe/a bubble bath.” Oh yeah, I totally got that.
For example, if you came to our house and Matman came running around the corner demanding tickle tickle, woggie, and a meema, would you know what to do?
S., age 4 1/2, has made some permanent contributions to the MRP household lexicon, among them pijeebays for pajamas and robot for bathrobe. I’d love to hear about any words that have been permanently changed (by kids or for any other reason) in the lexicon of your household, current or of origin.
And, oh yeah, if Superman came running around the corner at our house, you’d sing him “Twinkle Twinkle,” and give him a glass of water and a banana. Stat.
For those of you who have been breathlessly following the linguistic saga of D., now 20 months, the moment we’ve been waiting for seems to have finally arrived: the word spurt.
After months of vocal jargon babbling, D. is suddenly treating us to an evergrowing potpourri of words. Many of these have to do with food, natch: apple (which usually means apple, but also potato, tomato, or onion), pear, cookie, cracker, pizza, and more pizza. And newton for Fig Newtons.
I realized we were in the midst of the word spurt when, driving down the highway, he got in a total panic pointing out a digger by the side of the road. But instead of calling it a bus (which has for the last few months meant anything from truck to van to fire engine to an actual bus), he actually called it a digger.
Which leads to our new favorite game: get D. to repeat the word you just said. Even S. (age 4) joins in the fun: “Say hippo! [lion, bear, baby, fish, daddy, etc.]” It’s hours of fun — try it with your nearest toddler.
He still refers to horses as neighs though. Something to work on.
La familia de MRP was sitting around talking about oh, I don’t know, bats, and S. (age 4) said, “Oh, they have those at Shaunta’s house.”
“Who’s Shaunta?” we asked.
“Shaunta is not a person,” he said. “Shaunta’s house is a place.”
Over the next week, we got many clues about Shaunta’s house. As we already know, there are bats. For another thing, it’s dark. It’s scary. There are vampires. And mummies that look at you with their stinky eye.
It seriously took an entire week for us to figure out what Shaunta’s house was. S. was adamant that there was no person named Shaunta, it was just Shaunta’s house.
I think it was the vampires that finally tipped me off. “Is Shaunta’s house a haunted house?” I said.
“Yes,” S. said, giggling.