"Mom," Amy said seriously, "the word of the day is behold."
"Yes. As in, behold, I am eating my Froot Loops."
"Behold," I said, "the clock is ticking, and we need to leave soon for school."
"Good job, Mom."
Thus, my morning unfolds with Amy, aka "Vocabulary Girl."
Yesterday's word of the day was "huzzah," the term of approval and glee used in Colonial times.
Another day, the word was "authorized," as in, "Mom, you are authorized to use the word of the day, which could be authorized or unauthorized."
Huzzah. I am authorized.
I didn't set out to raise a sesquipedalian — one who has the habit of using long words. Somehow, it just has worked out that way.
I used to think it was the result of her being the youngest of four children in a home where verbalizing is genetically predestined. This was a conclusion I drew when, at just 2 years of age, Amy started punctuating her sentences with "apparently."
Not that she used the word correctly, but it had a nice cadence to it, as in, "Mom, apparently I am hungry."
About a year ago, I realized this child just speaks differently.
Case in point: The silence in the house is broken by a shriek from Amy.
"Scotty bit me," she cries.
This is odd. Our dog never even nips. "What did you do?" I ask, assuming she provoked him.
"He got into the garbage. When I attempted to confiscate the plastic bag from his mouth, he bit me."
I'm not making this up. This is how my daughter speaks to me.
I recall snagging the chicken wrapper from the dog and emptying the kitchen trash, all the while marveling at my little girl's vocabulary. I'm always impressed when small people use big words, especially if they use them correctly.
A varied vocabulary is a good thing — a result of reading and listening and maybe even a sign of a brainiac, so we encourage the use of new words.
But using big words also is a surefire way to get labeled as a geek in school. In fact, an advanced vocabulary seems to be the plight of the uncool.
Eventually, your friends say things to you such as, "Nobody even knows what you're talking about," the comment one friend made to Betsy when she described her weekend as "hectic" instead of "busy." Or the time one of Amy's friends said, "You're so mini-ful, Amy, but you use such big words." (Amy didn't know whether to be insulted about her small stature or her unusual expressions.)
They look at you as if you're strange. They roll their eyes. They even burst out laughing as they turn and walk in a group to the playground, leaving you to contemplate your forlornness while wondering what you did wrong.
Instead of feeling smart for using a choice word — a word that perfectly sums up your frustration (disgruntlement, for example) — you turn red and remember next time just to be quiet.
Truth be told, each of my children has at one time or other been accused of being weird for using unfamiliar vocabulary. In the seventh grade, Katie even endured persistent accusations that she read the dictionary for fun.
Imagine reading the dictionary for fun. What kind of anomalous oddball would scan the pages of the dictionary in pursuit of entertainment? Geek? Make that freak.
She denied it because no middle school girl with a modicum of self-awareness would ever admit that she finds it fascinating to learn the definitions of new words and, even more unthinkable, looks for opportunities to use them in conversation.
Not that she "dumbed down" to fit in, but she wasn't looking for a label (egghead, weirdo, bookworm, mutant — take your pick — they all mean the same thing to a 12-year-old).
Was it true she read the dictionary? Indubitably (a word Katie still loves to use).
It's hard to learn new words these days, even if a child is a reader. This is because of the trend to simplify the vocabulary of modern-day children's literature, I suppose on the assumption that easier words might make for more voracious reading. I suspect, however, it's only resulting in a generation of people who may never encounter so-called rare words.
Watching TV and hanging out in cyberspace probably aren't teaching children many new terms, either, other than acronyms and slang. Culturally speaking, it takes a determined parent to teach descriptive words that reach beyond the limits of "cool," "stupid" and "awesome," rhythmically enhanced by the persistent use of the word "like."
For now, I'm exploiting Amy's interest in words. Yesterday when I asked her what the word of the day was, her eyes lit up as if a spark had caught flame. "I don't have one," she said. "Got any suggestions?"
"I like the word 'propensity,' " I said, "as in: you have a propensity to use interesting words." We talked about what the word propensity means and how to use it in conversation. She thinks she has a propensity to be cool, and while I doubt this would be the consensus among her peers, I like that she thinks so.
Then again, what I really like is a child who is curious and interested in something that makes her unique and even a bit mysterious — if not misunderstood.
Huzzah for her.
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