Posts tagged ‘language’

January 24, 2012

Watch that Language! You Dropped an “F-Bomb” Behind the Couch

Over at The Hot Word, there is a post on swearing toddlers. In a recent episode of the sitcom Modern Family, a cursing two year old was featured, which apparently has been causing a big rukus.

A swearing toddler in the media isn’t a strange sight these days. It happens a lot in films and if anyone’s seen Will Ferrel’s hilarious video short from Funny or Die of him getting chewed out by his tiny daughter, they’ll know what I mean.

It’s all funny and cute until your kid drops an “f-bomb”. Well, yeah it is still funny. Sometimes.

As a mother of a very verbose five-year-old boy, I wanted to burst laughing and scream simultaneously the first time I heard my son say, “Mommy, what the fuck?” Kids are verbal sponges and I’d obviously hadn’t been aware of all the “f-bombs” I was dropping around the house here and there.

And then there was the day he came home from preschool and gave me the finger. It wasn’t given in an F- you,-Ma-I’m-flipping-you- the-bird manner. He just lifted up his middle finger and said matter-of-factly, “This is the middle finger.”  And then he smiled that devious little boy smile. I exploded. All my vows to be an enlightened, tolerant mother of the 21st century went up in smoke. “Who taught you that?!” I yelled. I had suddenly become one of those uptight mothers who hate “foul language.” He shrugged. I continued: “It was one of those kids at school, wasn’t it?  One of them has an older brother and he learned it from him and now you know it and. . .”   You get the picture.

No matter how closely you monitor your own mouth, the swear words are going to fly out of someone else’s, especially at school. And even more when they get older.   Timothy Jay, a psychologist who studies psycholinguistics and obscenities at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts sheds some light on the subject. In an interview with Live Science he said: “Preschoolers are pretty well-versed in the lexicon, and by 11 to 12, we are looking at adult swearing patterns.” He added: “Kids say swear words as soon as they talk. We have 1- and 2-year-olds who say ‘f—‘ and ‘s—‘ in our sample. . . We don’t learn how to swear from television — nobody does. We learn how to swear from our siblings, from our parents, from the backyard.

So what do you do with a swearing toddler? Everyone has a different method when handling this situation. When it happened to me, I realized I was about to become a blazing hypocrite, but I sucked it up and had “the talk”. I told my son that swear words are “grown up words that grown ups shouldn’t use”. Hypocrite.  And then I told him that while I’d be watching his language, he should also correct me if I let a bad word slip out.

You wouldn’t believe how many times I hear his little voice say, “Mommy, can you please not say that word?”

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January 21, 2012

Say What? Como Se Dice? Huh?

My mother-in-law is visiting from Peru. I understand Spanish and she understands a good deal of English, but neither of us speak the other’s language. This leaves my husband to play translator when we hit a wall and can’t understand each other. Alone, my mother-in-law and I actually do pretty well. For instance, we spent the whole day together yesterday speaking our own languages, a bit of each other’s, and signing. We did fine.

While I’ve been with my husband for about fifteen years, I’ve never learned his native language. Sad, I know, but he’s only ever spoken English with me. When I’ve pressed him to speak Spanish, he’s told me he doesn’t like to because his parents used to make him practice his English all the time and now he doesn’t want to practice Spanish with me. Fair enough. I enrolled in a couple Spanish classes, but life got in the way and I finally gave up.

Every time we travel to Peru I pick up a more Spanish. One time I even traveled to Machu Picchu with an English-speaking friend and was able to navigate the trip as the Spanish speaker, which is pretty scary if you could hear how bad my Spanish is.

Anyway, Peter Constantine of The New York Times Book Review reviewed a new book called Babel No More by Michael Erard. The book addresses the language-learning wizards of the world. Constantine calls it “part travelogue, part science lesson, part intellectual investigation. . . an entertaining, informative survey of some of the most fascinating polyglots of our time.

Constantine writes: “Linguists warn Erard that some self-­proclaimed polyglots may say they speak any number of languages, when in fact most of them know only a few grammatical rules, and have only a smattering of ready words and phrases.”  

I can speak half-ass Spanish; I took a couple Russian courses and can read cyrillic, I studied Italian in high school and can’t remember a damn thing except that Bolognese is tasty; and I studied French for years but since the “use it or lose it” rule applies, looking at French now is like seeing an old friend whose face you recognize but whose name you can’t really place, even though you hung out for years. Does this make me a polyglot? Hardly. The consensus is that you have to know at least six languages to be considered a polyglot and you must know those languages well. I kind of figured.

Tonight, my mother-in-law said that she fed my “cut” her food and I told her I loved animals and wanted to get a *fart, too.

* Pedo (fart) sounds like perro (dog) in Spanish when you can’t roll your rs correctly.

January 5, 2012

Big Bunch of Malarkey

I’m editing the novel I’ve been reworking for the past 15 years one more time. As I’m doing this, I’m rewriting some of the language the protagonist’s grandmother uses, which has me conjuring words my own grandmother – a Lithuanian immigrant –  used. Words like “malarkey” as in “There’s no such thing as the Boogie Man. That’s a bunch of malarkey.” Where the heck did such a brilliant word come from and where did it go?

I also remember words she used like “davenport” as in “Get your feet off the davenport or take off your shoes!” This was an oldschool term for couch. Another all-time favorite was “ruffian” as in “I don’t like that girl with the dungarees and lunatic eyes coming around here. She’s a ruffian.” Other oldies-but-goodies included: “hooligan” (I just learned this is actually a racist term) “hocus pocus”, “whippersnaper” and the aforementioned “dungarees”.

Someday words like “LP” and “amazing” (see previous post about banned English words) will be obsolete. I feel like an old-timer already.

December 31, 2011

Ginormous Baby Bump and Other Banned Words

Each year Lake Superior University releases an annual list of words and phrases banished from the Queen’s English for misuse, overuse and general uselessness. This year’s group of unsavory words  contains some very welcome and confusing wipeouts, including:

  • Amazing
  • Baby Bump
  • Shared Sacrifice
  • Occupy
  • Blowback
  • Man Cave
  • The New Normal
  • Pet Parent
  • Win the Future
  • Trickeration
  • Ginormous
  • Thank You In Advance

I agree with most of these, but “amazing”? Really? I know it’s overused, but to ban “amazing” would be like banning “incredible”. If we could just cut back on the “amazing”, maybe the word could go back to being used as a regular adjective to describe something as impressive.

And what the hell is “Win the Future”? Is this a Charlie Sheanism? And “trickeration”? Is this the sensation of being tricked? I’m all for getting rid of “baby bump”. And while we’re at it, let’s stop using “preggers”, too.

What words would you nominate for banishment?

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