Out of the mouths of babes


My wife and I intended to write down the amusing things that our children said in a special book, but we never did get around to it.

There should be a category, famous first words, to immortalise the first gems to pass a child's lips. Our gourmet friends' daughter could ask for ‘taramasalata’ with remarkable clarity from a remarkably early age, although it may not have been quite her first word. Other friends had two normal children. Number 3 seemed to be able to hear okay, seemed to understand everything and related well to others, but communicated by pointing and with grunts. At the age of three, he still had said no clear words, but his parents were adamant that there was no real problem. One day, his mother was offering drinks and said to him, ‘Orange juice or lemon juice? Oh, I forgot you don't talk’. She turned away, whereupon he said, ‘Orange juice, please.’ She whirled around and said, ‘You can talk. Why haven't you said anything before?’‘Nothing worth saying’, he replied. After that, he remained mute for another 6 months.

I used to read to my children every night. One evening, I was too tired to read. My daughter cuddled up to me and whispered, ‘This is the voice of your conscience speaking’. Of course I had to read to her then, although I was slightly less impressed when I discovered that it was a quote from her favourite video, Dumbo. Still, it can have its own category, quotations.

Sometimes, the language can be obtuse, and children will correct the conventional term and speak literally. If you ever said ‘Bad luck’ to one of our sons, he would reply, ‘It's not bad luck, it's sad luck’. A friend's children have a lovely term, ‘Happy saddish’, which expresses the German concept of Schadenfreude and which I find very comforting to use myself at times to express my mood.

Then, there is the category of brutal innocence. One of our sons was learning to ride his bicycle in the park so he must have been four or five. A man with a white stick was doing laps of a track. Said son called out to him, ‘Hey, blind fellow, there's flies all over your back’. The blind fellow stopped, brushed his back and a swarm of flies rose, buzzing loudly. He resumed his walk. ‘There, Dad, that was really helpful, wasn't it?’ Who was I to argue?

As they grow, children can just be brutal. A friend's 10-year-old daughter stormed out, saying to her mother, ‘Whatever happened to unconditional love?’

Children are probably at their most endearing when they illustrate imaginative use of language. One of my sons referred to a crescent moon as a ‘fingernail moon’, and I still smile to myself at the thought of it every time I see a new moon. My niece said ‘sweetynose’ to her father. ‘What?’‘Sweetynose’, she repeated. ‘What?’‘Sweety . . . . . . nose’, and she pointed to her nose. It required a long pair of tweezers to remove the sweety from her nose. Compound words are common in German; it is interesting that my young niece had created her own. One son went off to play with his cousin but returned after a while looking miserable. When asked what the matter was, he said, ‘Sam called me fat face and other fat names.’

When visiting the in-laws in Canberra, after a big evening meal, I would take our four children for a walk in the woods. One time, it was dark, and the youngest wanted to be carried, saying he was scared of wolves. My assurance that there are no wolves in Australia cut no ice. The others shot off into the woods and started to howl like wolves. The youngster clung ever tighter to me. As we neared the end of the woods, number 3 seemed to be getting closer. As we emerged, I said to number 4, ‘There, we didn't meet any wolves.’ Number 3 hung onto my leg. ‘No’, he said, ‘but I met my imagination.’

We would love you to send in letters with your stories of the interesting things your children or, indeed, other people's children have said, and would love more categories, although we do draw the line at expletives. Our computer firewall will not allow them through.

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