Laura on Life

It's all in the words

By Laura Snyder

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[July 20, 2011]  You would think that, having a mother who is a writer, my children would be fairly competent when it comes to the English language. Spelling, grammar and vocabulary should be strengths for them because I correct them, constantly.

"Son, 'He ain't got no brains or nothing' is not the correct way to say that your brother is an idiot..."

This tests not only my own English savvy, but also my parenting skills. Should I correct the insult to his brother or the insult to the English language?

Though triple negatives make me cringe into my turtleneck, personal insults are just plain unacceptable. However, trying to dissect the statement to determine whether it was indeed an insult hurts my brain. The intent was obvious, but until I decide whether it was truly an insult, I can only correct the sentence.

My daughter has an interesting grasp of vocabulary. I'm almost certain it's not English vocabulary, though.

We were driving in my car. She suddenly sat up with a big smile and asked if we could go for ice cream. I told her that I'm on a diet. She deflated like a balloon.

I told we could go to a place that had sugar-free ice cream.

She reinflated... then she laughed.

"I'm bilateral, aren't I?" she asked.

"I'm afraid I don't see the connection," I said, puzzled.

"You know, I switch moods very fast."

"Do you mean bipolar?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," she said. "Bilateral means you can speak two languages, right?"

"Nope." I smiled. "That's bilingual."

"Oh, phooey!" she sighed.

"If it's any consolation," I said, "you probably are bilingual. I just don't know what the other language is."

My 14-year-old has an obsession with the words "always," "never," "all" and "none." He rarely means these words, but exaggeration sounds better to him.

"All the kids in middle school took drugs," he said. He was trying to impress upon me the dangers of public school. I knew his intention, but I couldn't let it go without correcting him.

[to top of second column]

"You mean to say that some or a few kids in middle school took drugs, right?"

"No, all of them did," he said.

"Were you in middle school?"

"Yeeeessss," he said, rolling his eyes.

"And did you take drugs?"

"No! Do I look stupid?"

"Then ALL the kids did not take drugs, right? Maybe you knew a lot that did?"

"That's what I said!"

"No, that's what you meant."

...And the endless loop of teenage conversation goes on...

My youngest boy is a selectively good speller. I noticed a sign on his bedroom door the other day. It was attached to the door with 700 bits of masking tape.


Then he drew skull and crossbones and wrote underneath: INSTANTANEOUS DEATH!

I was very impressed with his correct spelling of "instantaneous" even though he mangled "permission."

I would have chastised him for threatening the members of our household with their certain and immediate demise, but reading further, I realized that perhaps his definition of "instantaneous death" wasn't the same as mine.

On a small scrap of paper taped under the first, he wrote a disclaimer. As I read, I realized that, for my son, "Instantaneous Death" apparently means "$10 or you have to do my chores for a week."

No wonder he acts like he's dying when I ask him to clean his room.


Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and speaker. You can reach her at lsnyder@lauraonlife.com or visit www.lauraonlife.com for more info.


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