Saturday, February 7, 2009

His Highness, Michael Phelps

I got nothin' against Michael Phelps. I am rooting for him. Really. I mean, put him at the end of the line behind a number of former Presidents if you want to castigate somebody for smoking pot. He should be the last one sentenced. No soapbox about that here. He just popped into my mind because of this post's subject matter. I'm going to talk about a bunch of unrelated things that somehow are connected in my mind (which doesn't need pot to free associate, obviously). Good luck following me as I segue from pot smoking to Hyphen Mama's darling Wynnie (NO connection between them whatsoever) to my own messed up hynace from early childhood, back to pot smoking, then back to Hyphen Mama and Butterflyfish. Try to keep up. You're embarrassing me.

We are here for the love of language. We are here in response to Hyphen Mama's post about "pershy hate", which is so cute I have to show it to you:

................After Wynnie finished picking up toys the playroom the other day she said,
................"Mommy, do you pershy hate me?"
................To which I replied, "No baby, but I do appreciate you."

How cute is that?!! I find it amazing how willingly children accept whatever phonetic sequence you give them. They just roll with it, just take it as they hear it.

Instead, being able to fully accept some strange new sound sequence is not so easy for me. It's hard for adults in general. We adults have well formed ideas of what's a possible word or sequence of sounds and what isn't. And we can't just stop knowing all that at will. It's hard to block out.

But young children don't have preformed linguistic filters for what's possible and what isn't. Clearing your throat could mean something, something like "Eat your cheerios." Why couldn't it, right? They have to sit back and listen and watch very carefully. To see what it is WE pay attention to. The stuff we don't react to must be meaningless...well ma'am, toss that out already! And they do.

But until it's clear that something (like throat clearing) means nothing, they don't rule it out.

For example, I wonder if Hypen Mama's daughter Wynnie thought of it as "pershy hate", with "hate" being the same "hate" we're thinking it is. Because what else could it be, right? Well, to a child just learning, it could be anything. It could be "hayit" possibly, or "h-eight" (long "a" sound, as in the number "eight"). It might not be the verb "to hate" that she hears when she strings those sounds together:
per-shee-h8. Then again, it might, but let's explore the first possibility anyway.

Here's an example: the term "Your Highness". Pretty simple:
high + ness. OK.

Except I always thought of it as "Your Hynace"...kinda like "furnace". To my ear, the first syllable ended with the "n", and the second syllable was a simple "us", like "hine-ous" or "hien-ace". Which makes no sense and I don't know how I could be that dumb, but whatever. It just sounded like a special word, unique, that meant "a royal person". They're so special and royal and important people, they have their own freaky word just for them. Again, anything goes when you're first hearing this stuff.

It never occurred to me that the term included the -ness suffix. (Doh.)
From here: "The suffix -ness is added at the end of an adjective to indicate the state, condition, quality or degree of something."

High-ness. Ok, makes sense. Royalty, kings and queens, high above us all. Gotcha.

So, we're agreed that "highness" means the state or condition of being "high".

Yeah, we're starting to come full circle back to the beginning of this post. When you think of the "state or condition of being high", do you think of Queen Elizabeth? Uh...not so much. At the moment, the first person I think of is poor Michael Phelps. His highness, Michael Phelps.

High-ness...not hynace! Seriously? And yet there are no high-ness jokes? Why in the world doesn't it get applied to people experiencing a high from drugs? I am so in the highness, dude. Ride the highness, my friend. Enjoy your highness. If I said, "Her highness won't last much longer", who would you think I was talking about, Queen Elizabeth or the stoner girl from homeroom?

I learned about kings and queens and princesses, heard the phrase "Your Highness", when I was still very young, from children's fairy tales that were read to me. I can only conclude that before my language filters were fully formed, when I heard the words "Your Highness", the suffix ness hadn't quite registered on my linguistic radar.

Which really is okay, all things considered. Because for a kid, if you're young enough, anything is linguistically possible. Until your mom clues in to the mix-up and realizes what you're doing (except in my case, of course, not so easily detected) that it's NOT pershy-hate and it's not fun-TEST-icles, and she patiently (or not), maybe smirkingly, but always lovingly sets you straight.

Think how many more fun-TEST-icles and pershy-hates and hynaces would be stuck forever in adult brains if not for the parent's ever vigilant linguistic guidance.

Hat's off to Hyphen Mama and to Butterflyfish for their linguistic vigilance, and their awesome blogs. And...what the hey...hats off to Michael Phelps, even though I have no evidence of his linguistic vigilance, blogging prowess, or parenting skills. He's awesome too, disregarding his recent brush with highness.


Hyphen Mama said...

His High-ness!!! You're so funny.

I remember when Wynnie was born, I kept telling people that having a kid was like the biggest, longest and MOST IMPORTANT science project ever. They are a giant petri dishes, just waiting for the next experiment (later as they become germ infested preschoolers, it brings a whole new meaning to the petri dish analogy!).

When I was a kid I asked my mom what "brouchuby" meant. She struggled and struggled and had me repeat it a hundred times, then finally said she had no idea. I was upset because it was SO SIMPLE: at the end of a tv episode, they would say brouchuby and then have a commercial. It took another 10 years for me to figure out they were saying: "brought to you buy".

Thank you for the shout out and the validation that this kid-word thing is universal and funny.

p.s. I loved the other blogs you linked to as well.

gudnuff said...

Thanks H-M! I love your hyphenedness. And your dear sweet Wynnie. And her need to be appreciated.

Cee said...

ok i think the point of this post might have been a little too deep for me or required more abstract thinking than I could muster but I love the thought of people speaking in "throat clearing" lol- how awesome would that be??

Kareer Woman said...

Enjoyed your post :)

gudnuff said...

Cee - thanks for your comment. It spurred me to tidy this one up and I think it's follow-able now, at least. There are languages that use throat sounds, and clicking sounds which blow an English-speaker's mind to witness.

Kareer Woman - Thanks! Glad to see you here. And thanks for leaving a comment. I live for comments. And I ususally follow the person to their site to pay a visit and reciprocate, so I'll be over to see you shortly.

gudnuff said...

Also, wanted to say to Hyphen-Mama: your "brouchaby" story! Your poor mom, she tried so hard. I think it's cool that you didn't bat a lash with Wynnie's pershy-hate. I am still impressed that Butterflyfish was able to figure out Clownfish's funny mangle-ment of "fantastico". Love this stuff, just love it.