Somewhat ironically, Robert Benchley once said, ‘Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.’ Invaluable advice that I am now trying hard to drill into my 4 year old.
Working with children allows you an up-close and personal look at how language is acquired. The English language, with its obscure Latin base, is often described as one of the hardest languages to learn. As such, it never fails to amaze me how children can apply the innumerable, irregular rules and still get their message across meaningfully.
But what also never fails to amaze me is how quickly they acquire words, all the while using them in the right context and with the right expression.
Having kids is like having a talking mirror wherever you go - something that I have never aspired to at the best of times. As if one of you is never enough, you have to be duplicated, in stereo. Always a sobering experience…
We mistakenly thought that we had kept our cursing mostly in check – but clearly not enough in check. You could have peeled me off the floor recently. While walking through David Jones, one of our ‘posher’ department stores, the Short One loudly declared to all the beautiful people in the cosmetic department, ‘Jeez, it’s f@#king hot in here!’
A not-quick-enough retreat ensued, resulting in one of the Short One’s arms being somewhat lengthier than the other.
This incident was followed up with of my famous ‘little chats’ – this time about appropriate ‘grown up’ words versus ‘little people’ words. Not only does one need to learn the idiosyncrasies of the English language – one also needs to know at which age certain words can enter one’s vocabulary.
What I didn’t factor in though, was the fact that youngsters are so very literal. I really needed to put a caveat on all grown up words, not just that one indiscretion, as big as it was… resulting, unfortunately, in another shopping expedition whereby I was wishing hard for an unexplained and immediate arrival of a ground chasm.
There we were, roaming the aisles of our local grocery store, having a jovial moment together at dad’s expense, until the Short One, laughing away, exclaims… ‘Oh dad! He is such a d#@khead, isn’t he?’
Where does one go to from there (other than quickly out of the store)?