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Guest Post: The death of a word

We love hearing from dad’s across the World. We were contacted by Stephen Greene who writes for headoftheheard.com and I was honored to welcome his post:

The Death of a Word – by Stephen GreeneBlack bow

Recently on this site there was a post called The birth of a word – A toddler speaks.  It truly is an amazing thing to witness your child learning language and experimenting with new words.  Those first stumbling steps on the road to communicating ideas and desires are a wonder for both the child and any proud parent.

In our family, though, we have recently experienced something entirely different.  It is as important as the birth of a word, but rarely written or even talked about.  It is potentially just as big a milestone, but instead of pure joyous celebrations it is tinged with regret.

I am talking about the death of a word.

I am British but I live in Brazil with my Brazilian wife.  We are trying to bring our two-year-old son up to be bilingual English and Portuguese and this means that he comes up with some strange words from time to time.  A couple of months before we went to the UK for the first time he had taken an interest in cars and had started calling them ‘brum’ because of the sound they made.  While we were in the UK, for no reason that anyone could discern, this word changed from ‘brum’ to ‘abudah’.  It happened overnight and the word caught on.  Vans, cars, trucks, bikes and motorbikes were all ‘abudah’.

Everyone loved this word.  On our arrival back in Brazil we had to translate ‘abudah’ into the Portuguese word ‘carro’ so that our family and friends would understand what he was talking about.  Strangers on the street would give us strange looks as our son enthusiastically shouted ‘abudah’ at every passing bus.

And then, one morning, we woke up and ‘abudah’ was no more.  It had been replaced by the English word ‘car’.  And then, along came ‘tractor’ and ‘tru’ for truck.  But ‘abudah’ was never heard of again.

We all missed this strange word.  Friends that we hadn’t seen for a few weeks would come in and say ‘abudah’ to our son without a glimmer of understanding from him.  It was as if it had never existed.

We do have one small consolation.  A bus is ‘Mimi car’ and a motorbike or bicycle is ‘pies’.  While everyone loves these words, especially ‘Mimi car’, we know that at some point they too will go the way of ‘abudah’.

Stephen Greene blogs on (not just) the life and times of a bilingual family in Curitiba, Brazil at headoftheheard.com

  • dadcapades says:

    I still morn one of my daughter’s most ridiculous words. She had a hard time saying “water” and she would sort of just spit syllables out in a rough approximation of water. After a time she settled on a nice nonsense word: “lig-golly-goll” How this was easier to say than water I know not (a linguist I am not). My wife actively attempted to extinguish the word whilest I actively attempted to keep it alive.

    The scales were even until my son (4) chose a side, the side of water. Now, he would never correct my daughter (2) but anytime I said it, I would be scolded “No Daddy! Water!” The best instance of this being whilest I was in the kitchen, him nowhere in site, so I safely said ligollygoll, followed a millisecond later with “No daddy, Water!” He was taking a dump.

    Long story short (too late) I feel your painl

    July 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm
    • Stephen Greene says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dadcapades. Our son has recently started to tell me off for things as well, so I feel what you are talking about.

      “Lig-golly-goll” has got to be one of the best words I have ever heard in my life. If it isn’t a ‘real’ word in some language somewhere then it should be.

      July 31, 2013 at 9:37 am
  • jezsmith says:

    My baby isn’t speaking yet but I’ve already had experience of missing his actions, such as sticking his tongue out when I stuck mine out. I have no idea when he stopped doing that.

    July 31, 2013 at 2:08 am
    • Stephen Greene says:

      I was told that getting your baby to copy your movements is an excellent exercise. Our son started to stick his tongue out at us when we wriggled ous around and made noises at the same time.

      July 31, 2013 at 9:38 am
  • Kristin says:

    I completely agree. My twins used to call horses “poh-kah-tahs” for the sound they make as they gallop. One day (at around age 4), it was no more…I miss it still…

    July 31, 2013 at 3:57 am
    • Stephen Greene says:

      Hi Kristin, “pohkahtah” is one that my wife uses with our son. It sounds strange to me compared to “clippety-clop”, but he responds well to both of them.

      July 31, 2013 at 9:40 am
  • Spanish Playground says:

    Oh sad! This is what video/audio is really for. Capture the fun words quickly!

    July 31, 2013 at 5:23 am
    • Stephen Greene says:

      We have that and a lot more already recorded. We will have lots of ready-made material for blackmail when he is older 😉

      July 31, 2013 at 9:41 am
  • Christian Toto says:

    Oh, the mangled toddler words! Chocolick milk … ‘puter (for ‘computer’) … the list is endless. And it’s fading, too. My wife and I are trying to get them on video or at least write them down before they fade away for good.

    July 31, 2013 at 6:54 am
    • Stephen Greene says:

      As soon as you get your video camera out, though, they stop staying what you want them to. One of the ragedies of modern parenting.

      July 31, 2013 at 9:43 am
  • Olga Mecking (@TheEuropeanMama) says:

    Oh that is hard! My brother said: “tilala” for bottle (in Polish, it’s butelka so it never made any sense”), and “tuyete” for dziekuje, thank you. These words also died, and it’s a little bit sad.

    July 31, 2013 at 9:00 am
    • Stephen Greene says:

      I am fascinated by where they get the words from because often they make no sense whatsoever. We just have to enjoy them while they last.

      July 31, 2013 at 9:44 am

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