Click on this link for a sweet piece from acclaimed poet and author Cate Kennedy on the oddities and inconsistencies of language through the eyes of a child.
Cate’s point is well made. By stiffly following convention we stifle creativity. We miss out on unexpected and fresh combinations of words-ideas-sounds-images that have the power of new. I’ve never forgotten a poem from a fellow second year creative writing student (way back when) who wrote of the “goshness” of a kitten exploring its world. It’s not a word you’ll find in a dictionary but we all know what it means.
Delivering goshness is one reason I admire Markus Zusak’s work so much. It’s why I will sit through a car review from Jeremy Clarkson knowing I’ll never drive the vehicle he describes but I can still savour the language he employs to explain his motoring experience.
A few years back John Marsden wrote an article arguing that we shouldn’t tell children that cows moo, ducks quack and so on. Why? Because we might be implanting conventions when a child might find its own altogether better way to depict those sounds. A new way of describing something isn’t a wrong way.
As Cate says, it’s a parenting conundrum. We want to equip our children for the world they live in. But sometimes it’s better if they colour outside the lines.
teflonic – adj. for someone that mud/criticism doesn’t stick to, despite their apparent incompetence. We all know someone it applies to.
Thanks to Fiona H for this one!
I regularly rattle on about the use, abuse and evolution of language, including in this earlier post.
Last weekend I heard a teen friend using “maybs” – a short form of ‘maybe’.
After mentioning this to my fellow web-heads they also gave me “totes” for ‘totally’, and “evs” for ‘whatever’. When my kids can’t even bother with all the syllables in what-ev-er, I’ll know communications have reached an all-time low.
I also heard a breakfast radio presenter calling for similar examples of teen speak and the best he was offered was a ripper: “You’re harshing my mellow.” Presumably this translates as “disturbing my calm”. It reminds me of Neil, the hippy member of the unforgettable Young Ones share house. Now those guys really knew how to have fun with language.
Speaking of conversational combat, here are a couple of sizzling put-downs I’ll never forget:
Me reading out a grab from a newspaper citing a new “guru”…
Colleague’s reply: “Huh. They only call someone a guru when they can’t fit charlatan into a headline”.
Me telling a friend about someone who took a year off work to write a novel…
Reply: “He didn’t write a book. All he did was prance about wearing a f***ing beret.”
Journo to telephone caller: “You’re not witty! You’re about as sharp as a f***ing bowling ball!”
There was an interesting piece in yesterday’s Sunday Age about how schoolyard language is evolving. It’s reproduced online without the fun graphic that caught my eye – but still worth a squiz.
As an author, I try to be constantly alert to the idiom of people I might be writing about. An authentic voice = a persuasive character.
As a parent, I’m more alarmed than alert to some of this new slang. For instance, my son and his mates continually use “versing”, as in “I’m versing Josh at chess”. I’m forever telling them there’s no such word. To compete versus someone doesn’t mean versing them!
However, language is alive and always adapting to trends and conversational shortcuts. It may well be that my son will have the last laugh in an updated dictionary. “Look Dad, now there is such a word…”
Footnote: My daughter is four and a force to be reckoned with. She recently described some overripe fruit as “all fluggsy and budgie”. I reckon that communicated her feelings very well.