I often catch myself talking gibberish to my children. And when I do I have to suppress the urge to glue my mouth shut and punch myself in the face. After all I’ve spent years being taught to talk properly, but now I’m a parent 93% of everything I say is nonsense. Or at least grammatically suspect.
It’s even more annoying when I hear other parents doing it, because, obviously, I’m a hypocrite. But it’s the children who really suffer, forced to listen to the brutal butchery of the English language on a daily basis.
These verbal crimes are particularly upsetting:
This old parental trick just WILL NOT DIE. And I am a repeat repeating offender. “Poo poo” is a favourite and one I use regularly to make the daily chats we have as a family about toilet-related matters a little more palatable. But even my five year old has started looking at me with disdain when the phrase drops out of my mouth: “No dad, I’m doing a poo and a wee at the same time,” is often her huffy response.
Turning verbs into nouns
At work it’s possible to separate colleagues into good people and those who use ‘learnings’ instead of ‘lessons’. The latter group should be avoided/locked in a stationery cupboard. Sadly parents are not immune to turning verbs into nouns and have popularised ‘sleeps’ to such an extent it is now an acceptable term for adults to use among themselves, usually on Facebook as they count down to a holiday I can’t afford: “Three sleeps until New York!”, “Packing for NYC, two sleeps to go”... Say it again and it’ll be one sleep until you’re sleeping with the fishes. There’s really nothing wrong with ‘nights’ – children, despite their tiny brains, generally understand the term. Let’s stop this before we start referring to days as ‘awakes’.
High-pitched verbal diarrhoea
Parents often feel the need to add an extra layer of explanation to get their point across in a child-friendly way. For example, “let’s put on our listening ears”, often said in a weird cartoon voice, is a softer way of barking ‘listen!’ during storytime at the library. But when it’s accompanied by a death stare and hissed through gritted teeth it loses that air of playful jollity.
If we applied this to everything we said all our utterances would become ridiculous: “Put your sitting arse on the sofa, turn on the TV and use your watching eyes. I need to get my drinking mouth around this (triple) gin and tonic.”
Missing out words
To cater for a toddler’s short attention span parents often omit the less important words from a sentence. But I’ve tried it and whether I say: “It’s time to go to bed” or “time go bed byes”, small children remain unmoved. They are going nowhere until In The Night Garden has finished.
Mums and dads get into a right old tangle talking about genitals, which in itself sounds like we’re in anatomy glass. As do penis and vagina. Willy does the job for a boy, although some parents still insist on wee man or winky. But for girls – fanny (too American), front bum (you wouldn’t call an ear a side nostril), princess parts (how much like a princess are they really?) – nothing seems quite right. I use froof, which I’m not entirely happy about.
Having said all that, parents can carry on spouting nonsense. Because, even if it annoys me, they’re not doing their kids any harm according to the experts. Penny Tassoni, President of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) says: “Adults are primed to simplify their language when talking to babies and toddlers. Reducing the number of words in a sentence and repeating key words help because they make the language code easier to crack.”
She adds: “Sleeps rather than nights is simply a way for parents to contextualise the countdown for a future event.” Maybe so Penny, but I don’t like it.