A word, is a word, is not a word?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Okay… so let’s call it a “booger”.
“Ah sweetie! Thank you for the dozen boogers! That is so romantic.”
Come again?

Before I can plunge into my intended topic (made-up words), you must understand what a word is .

A word is a sound (or combination of sounds) that symbolizes and communicates a meaning. (The Free Dictionary)

This means that it can be considered a word if:
a. it is consistent over time to symbolize an object, idea, description
b. it communicates something to others (so words they echo are not true “words”)

Words for the animal that lives on a farm and makes milk
tao (mispronunciation of “cow”)
milk (if consistently called this)

Now, back to the main topic, why do children develop their own unique vocabulary? Why do they have words that very few comprehend? Why do parents remember these idiosyncratic words for years?

I’ve narrowed it down to a few reasons.

1. Oops! I misunderstood you again…
A 2006 LiveScience article states that babies attach the word you are saying with the item that interests them most, regardless of its label. So while mommy is excitedly showing Johnny the neighbors newborn child, Johnny is entranced by the bouncing Cocker Spaniel. “Baby” might encode in his mind for furry, four-legged creatures.

Here’s the hoot of the process though. Parents may not realize the child’s misinterpretation of the word for quite some time. Here’s a great story that was shared with me,

“Pork Chops” = “Hershey’s kisses”
When that one started, my son was 2 and asked for a pork chop. It was close to lunch, so I agreed and he ate them without saying another word. Mid-afternoon he again asked for a pork chop. “No, we already had those today and Mommy’s not going to make them again.” He went back to playing. Supper time rolls around and he asked AGAIN. Same answer. He started crying.

My husband came in to talk to him and he finally said, “I SHOW you, Daddy!” He had my husband open the freezer for him and then pointed at my “secret” (or so I thought!) stash of Hershey’s kisses. “Pork chops!”

He’s almost 6 now and I’m still not sure which he’s asking for if he says it–chocolate or meat? I know which one *I* would pick.

Some words are understood, found endearing, and incorporated as part of the family vocabulary. A few years ago, my aunt took my cousin and her one year old son to Disneyland. What caught his attention there? The rides? The balloons? The massive cartoon characters walking around the park? No. His doting grandma of course! But what word did he hear? “Minnie”.

So he attached the word “Minnie” to his grandma. And Minnie she became. The family thought this was adorable and started calling her “Minnie” as well. Now she is “Minnie” to all of her family.

2. I tot I taw a puddy tat!
The important objects and people in children’s lives don’t always have names that are easy to pronounce. It was no accident that easy sounds become children’s early words (mama, dada, baby). But naming the older sister “Veronica”? Um… That’s a new name creation just waiting to happen! A few other names to avoid for the sake of future siblings: Kyle, Christina, George, and Oscar.

When you examine the developmental order of sound aquisition, many childhood mistakes are understandable. Consonant blends (“bring”), multisyllabic words (“pajamas”), and liquids (“r” and “l”) sounds comprise a large percentage of English words, yet are not developed until late preschool age and beyond. No wonder your toddler wants a you to “bing” (bring) him a “widduh nana” (little banana) while he is still in his “dama” (pajamas).

3. And she’ll have fun, fun, fun when her daddy takes the dictionary away!
Older children are notorious for making up words. They love to create their own secret vocabulary, or develop words that help explain what they are thinking or pretending. Sometimes these are words they’ve heard (but not understood) in adult conversation. A great example is when jenuinejen’s kids decided that a “fart” was when “someone helps someone else”. They declared that they were both each others’ “farts”. Awww. How sweet?!

Making up words is just entertaining. So fun, in fact that, one site lists a whole new “fun” lexicon which is filled with delightenment . Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, and Lewis Carrol have enriched the English language by providing us with new words, and therefore more ways to describe the world (real or otherwise).

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  1. Printing and saving as usual!

    To this day I can still remember the secret language I shared with my siblings . . . and sometimes I let it slip . . .

  2. What a great post!
    I think this subject is so interesting! It’s fascinating how kids develop language, all over the world. When we lived in France, I loved hearing the preschoolers speak, and watching them learn as I learned the language too!

    And I love the names children give to things and people. My oldest daughter Sarah was called Yaya for years by her brother. But when she was just learning to talk she called herself Fweda.


  3. Loved the kisses/pork chop story!!!

  4. Great post. My son calls knitting “nettling”. He is 6 but somehow I guess got needle and knititng combined and now says “I would like Oma to nettle a blanket for me”. I love it, sooo cute.

  5. What a great post! The pork chop/hershey’s kiss story is just wonderful.

    My grandfather was “Oompa” because that’s just what came out of my mouth for him. It is now a tradition, of sorts, for grandfathers in my family to be called “oompa.”

  6. Love it! My daughter always called milk ‘mimi’ which I think was not because milk started with mi, but rather because when I pulled out the milk, she assumed it was for her brother and would call “me! me!”. Its tough being the middle child!

  7. My son couldn’t say “f” so he called fish “sish” and coffee “cossee”. My favorite was the day he said…

    Sine. Sorget it. You drink your cossee while I look at these sishes!!!

  8. Great post and one I really needed to read. My 18 month old is only saying a couple words clearly, but has many of his own “words” for things.

    Loved the pork chop/Hershey Kisses story. Priceless!

  9. My son mistakenly calls the Experimental Farm, a local agricultural museum, the “sentimental” farm. I love that.

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