Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Parlevous, habla?

Ah, the English language and the frustration of trying to teach it to someone whose native tongue it is not.  Or an autistic kid, especially, when the teenage peanut gallery is in the house.


Yesterday, my sweet son who struggles with all things word-related asked me what the word EXPENSIVE means … this after a lengthy diatribe from me about why I will not, ever-never/never-ever, buy him a ridiculously costly per visit Fast Pass to our local amusement park now that he has a Season Pass (which was pricey enough and doesn’t include drinks, meals or the super cool coveted $20 key chains with a picture of him screaming on each and every ride).  After a short, easily digested explanation of the word I attempted to stretch the lesson a bit (since I had his attention) by telling him about another word that sounds similar — EXPANSIVE, which he grasped pretty quickly and we had a good chuckle about how something expansive can often be expensive (for example: the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, a marvelous example that my boy came up with on his own).


Then, the whole process got wonky by the teenager in the crowd (if you subscribe to the whole two’s company, three’s a crowd school of thought).   Said teenager was glued to her iPod for most of my conversation with her brother, but added her two cents anyway.  And I have to confess, it’s hard not to bite when bait is given.


She: Well, what about EXSPINESIVE?


Me:  No such word.  But if there were, it would mean your back is too large.  Maybe you’d be too tall to fit in the doorway.




Me: Nope.  But it’d make a great Vegas word, having to hock all your goods to afford the expansive expensive digs located along the Strip.




Me: Another made-up word for the city of Lost Wages.  All of your expensive stuff’s been pawned and the expansive casinos own your soul!


After an uncontrollable giggle fit, double x chromosome style, my son (having been quiet this whole time) yells from the back seat, “Okay, now that’s enough!”  Bad mommy. 


There are so many teachable moments most days with my children, but sometimes the rubber chicken routine wins just because the funny hangs in the air and is hard to resist.

I figure at this rate, either my boy will grow up with an appreciation of the expanse of language or the expense of psychotherapy.


To be fair, I’ve noticed that it’s not just the 13 year old artistic autistic in my house who struggles with the nuances of language.  The crusty old fellow I’m married to and a handful of my older relatives do, too.  Over the past 20 some odd years of marriage and family (and I do mean odd in its every definition, if you look it up), I have found it useful to be as creative as possible when trying to communicate, because after the first handful of frustrating attempts one has to find other ways to skin a cat/Katz.  After that, if all else fails, and you can’t beat ‘em, treat ‘em or train ‘em – up on your feet and entertain ‘em, that’s my motto.  Well, one of many, at any rate.


One of my favorite word stories is not so much about a word as it is a punctuation mark


There are a number of computer savvy octogenarians in my orbit and they often ask me about websites and internet information I have found or they cannot locate.  Usually, I just email the information, because it can be confusing to try and convey the backward slashes and underscoring of URL addresses over the phone. 


One afternoon, I was in my car talking about one of my favorite websites (an incredible site for foodies, like me, who were not blessed with jean genes and have to fight the good fight in order to have both) and tried to share the info.  The dub-dub-dub and dot com part of the conversation went fairly smoothly, but every time I came upon the word HYPHEN, I hit a brick wall.  Over and over again, to the point of flying expletives (not mine) the question was asked of me, “What in the < bleep > is a HYPHEN?  I tried using the word DASH, which didn’t work and then tried explaining that it was the punctuation mark that one made by drawing a little line in-the-middle-of-two-words… to no avail.  There is another motto I like to use, it has to do with the process of trying to teach a pig to sing and how crazy it makes both teacher and pig.  This was one of those times when the phrase applied.  Finally, after being told repeatedly that this was JUST NOT A REAL WORD, I said, “Quick, grab a pencil!  I need you to write down a phone number for me.”  After some initial resistance, the seven digits finally made it onto the pad at the other end of the phone.  Quietly, the voice replied, “Well, that was silly.  This is your phone number.  Why in the world would you make me write down your phone number?”  Gently, I asked that the number be repeated to me and after the first three digits said, “Stop.  See that thing in between the first three numbers and the last four numbers?  That. Is. A. Hyphen.”


Friends, language is a lot of things, but it is never boring.  Not in my world. 


When I give presentations to elementary schools for my children’s chapter books (Water: The Cycle, Conservation and Preservation for Miss L’eau or The Music, Math and Melody of Words for Pythagoras) it gives me great pleasure to tell kids about the super powers of words and how words will help them develop communication tools that can change the world.  But, I realize that I’m going to have to add a paragraph or two about how they’ll have to bob and weave their way around the cryptic kryptonite of words, too.  The humorous aspects, I hope they’ll discover for themselves along the way.

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