Friday, January 25, 2013

By Any Other Name

HB is supine under the glass coffee table. She’s suction-cupped an arrow to the underside, tied a purple ribbon around it, shone a flashlight toward it, and is needling the eraser end of a pencil into a spot only she can see.

HB puts the buddies in peril (request permission for use)
She reaches her hand out toward me and says, “so-shu.”

I place a new tool in her hand.

A few more seconds of toil and then the hand is out again. “Mer-shoy,” she says.

I give her another tool, a wooden block. She presses it against the spot with one hand, pulls it away, inspects the work, then tries it again.

She hands back the Mershoy and opens her palm.

“Lik-trish,” she says.

I lay a purple plastic ring in her hand.

“No,” she says, “LIK-trish.”

“Sorry,” I say, and replace the purple bracelet with a pink one. She accepts the pink one and turns her attention back to the table.

She’s fixing it.

Charlie looks across it at me and shakes his head.

I say, “clearly this is a TICK-trish,” holding the purple. “She needed the LIK-trish.”

Our game of made up words for tools keeps us occupied for a while.

She is constructing a mechanism to repair an invisible crack in the glass coffee table. She works away, requesting tools by invented names. I give her an assortment of plastic rings, wooden blocks, a pencil, a drum stick, a post-it note that is losing its stickiness, half of a plastic egg, and an orange beaded Mardis Gras necklace.

I told you before about her collection of random things and how they take on new purpose and use in her imaginary play. That play has now extended to vocabulary.

The beautiful thing about her made-up vocabulary is that I only have to cooperate to encourage her. Pretend I know exactly what she means and she continues. Question or act confused and she feels deflated, unsure, rejected.

I always play along.

“Words that begin with N,” I coach, as we drive to school during “N” week.

“New,” she says.

“Next,” I say.

“Nest,” she says.

“Night,” I say, “like it’s dark and time to go to bed, it must be night.”

“Nub,” she says.

“Really? What’s a nub? You mean, like when you eat most of a carrot and all you have left is the nub?”

“No,” she says, “when you need to go somewhere and there’s a door and then you can’t go there.”

“Okay,” I say. “My turn. Nana.”

“That’s your mom’s mommy.”

“Right. Your turn.”


“What’s a nym?”

“When you have something and it’s a surprise and then you give it and say ‘surprise’ and that’s a nym.”

“Okay,” I say, “my turn.”

I’m sure there are educators who would say I am intentionally confusing her by enabling this imaginary play. But what I like about it is the way she rolls the sounds around her mouth before expelling them. She’s working through different endings on words until she falls on one she thinks sounds plausible.

I also remember my early writing days when I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe everything I’d seen. So I used ill-fitting words like “blot cloth” for an ace bandage and “oops tape” for that white medical tape they used to use to close wounds before liquid band aids.

So I encourage her imagination, even and especially into vocabulary because I think it is expanding her mind into the capabilities of language and expression.

The problem with an invented vocabulary is that we seldom remember the terms we’ve made up. So as she continues to ask for tools and I continue to hand them to her, we are renaming the blocks, the bracelets, and the drum stick with multiple nonsense syllables, unable to remember what we called them last time.

Which confuses the heck out of her daddy.

And which I think is fine. As long as the table gets fixed.

Experimenting can help us see possible outcomes and familiarize us with concepts like vocabulary and physics. When have you used a TRY approach to learn something?


  1. So interesting. I don't ever remember making up words, and I was terrible at Balderdash.

    It will be so interesting to see how this develops in her as she grows.

    1. Hi, Kirra,

      Thanks for stopping by. I have always encouraged her to use items for alternative purposes and she's kept that up. So I'm hoping her vocabulary experimentation will enable her to be one of those creative people who invent new worlds (Harry Potter-esque). My world is pretty limited to my own vocabulary. I'd like for hers to go beyond it.

  2. I love the fact you consistently encourage her imagination. I'm not sure I was always as encouraging with you and your sisters; I think I mainly just let you all create on your own. As for myself, I have just recently begun to again allow myself to try new things such as teaching myself to knit, working on improving my Scrabble skills, and learning new yoga poses(this is where the laws of physics are challenged). Anyway, you are raising a confident and imaginative little girl who constantly gives me reasons to be joyful on a daily basis! I love you and as always so very proud of you my daughter and friend!

    1. Thanks, mom.

      Admittedly, it can be kind of boring to follow someone else's imagination. Especially when that imagination is confusing or undeveloped. I try to hang in there because I know what is "boring" to me is working in her, building that confidence and imagination you mention.

  3. Very cute! I know when instilling foreign language in the household, I've received back nonsensical words. Sometimes I've played along, and other times I ask for the English translation. And then on other occasions, I've been requested not to understand any made-up words because it's all a secret and private sibling language.

    1. Hi, Jennifer,

      Always good to see you on Clemson Road! I usually ask HB for a definition of her made-up words. It's funny to hear the lengthy explanation she fabricates.

  4. Love this post, Kasie! As a child, I remember making up words when my limited vocabulary didn't suffice. As I age, I sometimes have to be imaginative again because I can't find the right word.
    HB's imagination is so lovely; don't ever let anyone squelch it!

    1. Thanks for coming by. I truly value her imagination and do everything I can to encourage it. I dread the day someone (probably another kid) tells her to stop imagining things.


Love Builds Confidence

Going into the archives for some classic blogs to get this blog resurrected. It's no longer The 41st Year and Life on Clemson Road is, ...