Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language


Jack, aged 3 Do you remember the funny things your kids used to say when they were little? The special things you or your siblings said when you were tiny?

My stepson Jack and his sisters love their grandpa and always fight to sit next to him. Chris is a tall, thin ex-army colonel who joins in with all the fun, dive-bombs them in the swimming pool, drinks too much wine and flirts with all the ladies, and when Jack was two he used to call him Grandma Man.

One day as we were driving to his grandparents’ house, Jack’s sister Ella, aged five, told him he was getting it wrong: he wasn’t Grandma man, he was Grandpa, she said. Over the 15-minute journey, my partner and I were in agony as she taught him to say it ‘properly’, and by the time we arrived at the front door, Grandma Man was lost to us for ever.

Be great to hear your favourite examples of made-up or mixed-up words, and twisted meanings; the childhood words and phrases you mourn…

Other Jackisms:

Long-leg daddy for daddy longlegs 
Mote’n’troll for remote control 
Crizbee for frisbee

As we lived in France, his language sometimes went a bit Franglais, with for instance:

Travaux! for Bravo!

Anything! for Nothing! (Asked, “Jack! What did you do?” he’d reply “Anything!”, a logical translation from the French, as ‘aucun’ which means ‘any’ also means ‘none’)
I did that tomorrow for I did that yesterday


And what about things you and your siblings said? At five, my big sister, Jilly, who was remarkably sweet and well-mannered (as well as being famous for successfully twisting spaghetti around her fork when she was 18 months old), would ask to leave the table by saying:

“Please may I get down, Mummy? I’ve had efficient.”

cherry tree I love the random poeticism that can come from so-called language ‘mistakes’. On falling out of a cherry tree the other day, my Dutch friend rang to tell me:

“I just felt like a flower from the tree and I stand up.”

(The ‘felt’ rather than ‘fell’ is a result of my friend speaking fluent but idiosyncratic English, influenced by more than 20 years of living in southern France in a Catalan-speaking area.)

What an evocative image: falling like a flower from a tree… I might just put that in a poem.

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