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August 04, 2003

Ten Things I Like About Being a Parent, II


Another good thing about being a parent is getting to re-experience words in their primordial state.

Tonight I was in the bath with my son, who recently turned two. He was playing with a supply of plastic kitchen implements, a gift from my lovely wife. (My son is obsessed with tools of any stripe—drills, screwdrivers, onion presses, vacuum cleaners, you name it. I don't remember my girls being like this. I guess it's a sex difference. It's certainly innate.) He held out one with a long handle and a flat blade set at a slight angle and asked what it was.

Apparently one of my brain switches was stuck in the wrong position tonight. I looked at the darn thing and thought: skillet. I knew that wasn’t right, but I could not think of the correct term to save my life. Scraper? Slider? I put him off for a moment, hoping my brain malfunction was temporary and they wouldn’t be sending me off to the glue factory tomorrow.

A few minutes later, it burst on my consciousness. “Spatula,” I shouted. “It’s a spatula!” My son had moved on, by then, and didn’t really care, but I insisted that he pronounce the word. "SPA-chu-la.”

It's at the tip of my tongue...or... somewhere around there.

As I said it, I suddenly had some aesthetic distance on the word. Spatula?! What kind of a stupid word is that? Three syllables and an overall Latinate sound for a simple kitchen tool? Is it too late to vote for scraper? It seems far more appropriate, somehow—Anglo-Saxon and earthy. We can keep spatula for the biological name: this tool is a member of the species Spatula Grotesquius.

I can dimly remember when I was my son's age having this kind of reaction to the sound of all the new words I learned. So, oddly, my memory lapse rewarded me with another, far more rare, memory in the end. Anyway, if you’re going to get any kind of benefit at all out of a failing memory, it’s really helpful to have these lapses in the presence of someone young enough not to treat you like the pathetic fossil you are. Preferably someone still learning to talk, who still thinks you’re the one who's got the whole language thing sussed.

I figure that gets me about another six months with my son. What happens after that, I have no idea. Maybe I can talk my wife into another kid?



P.S. The illustration above is from the website of a guy called Spoonman who will be glad to sell you your very own lovingly crafted spatula headware here.

posted by Friedrich at August 4, 2003


I know I've had similar word memory lapses lately, but I can't remember what they were, which I guess puts me one step ahead on the senior-moment scale.

However, I do remember two word-learning memories from childhood(isn't retaining long term memory but losing short term memory a definite sign of older age??) and both related to words as I sounded them out while reading, and didn't connect with the word I had heard. One was "idiot" which I sounded out as "eye-dee-ot" and remember the ah-hah moment when I finally realized it was the word everyone said as "idiot." The other was the word "misled", which I sounded out as "mizzled." I think I still like mizzled better.

Posted by: annette on August 4, 2003 10:12 AM

Exactly. I've certainly spent a considerable amount of time being mizzled--especially the four years at our Lousy Ivy University.

Let's rise up against the tyranny of the expected in English language usage and proudly hold high the products of our memory failures and mispronunciations!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 4, 2003 10:24 AM

This post reminds me of my theory (which as a fourth-grader I pronounced "thee-OR-ee") that there are two classes of people: the literate, who mispronounce more words than they misspell, and the rest, who are the other way around. I was raised to believe that mispronouncing a word that you know was a sort of badge of honor. My mother used to call such things "reading words."

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on August 4, 2003 12:39 PM

Scraper? One does not normally use a spatuala for scraping unless one has failed to use it for its intended purpose, allowing the food to burn and stick to the skillet, thus necessitating the use of the spatuala as a scraper. ;-)

I'm glad I'm not the only person who has "senior moments." It's very disturbing at my age. I hadn't expected it to happen until I was nearing 60.

Posted by: Lynn S on August 4, 2003 1:20 PM

Spatuala? So how do you fit into Aaron's divisions of folks, Lynn?

Usually, I call it that, "oh, you know, the thingamajingy that you flip the pancakes with...."

Posted by: Deb on August 4, 2003 3:36 PM

As a barely-graduated-high-school voracious reader, I am the kind of guy who actually pronounced the Greek god as "uh-DOH-nuhs" on a patio chock-a-block with college-educated drunkards. Fifteen years later, I'm still taking the needle from my so-called friends. Now, I'm gonna be saying "thee-OH-ree" just to see who corrects me.

As far as "spatula" goes, there are two types in my household. The stiff kind for flipping pancakes and eggs (if you couldn't do the flipping single-handed with the pan and a quick wristal-area movement alone) -- and the scraper kind you pull out to get that last bit of Miracle Whip out of the jar.

Well, we are poor and have to use words over and over.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 4, 2003 11:00 PM

For me it was 'molested' which I only thought had two syllables. My mother refused to explain what MOLE-sted was.

Posted by: Cobb on August 5, 2003 4:18 AM

Deb, I am in that division of folks who have fingers that work faster than their brains. ;-)

I don't know how I did that. I even looked at Friedrich's post a second time to make sure I was spelling SPATULA correctly and I still mispelled it the same way twice.

Posted by: Lynn S on August 5, 2003 5:56 PM

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