The Alternative Vocabulary of Children


I have a three year old.  I additionally have an eight year old who of-course was once a three year old as well.  And for those of you who are parents or perhaps you work with children in the age range of 2-4 years, you know that verbalization is a highly creative process where they often mix and match parts of words they have accurately learned with whatever other random letter sounds they thought they heard or perhaps just make up on the spot from the mysterious recesses of their growing minds. 


The end result can sometimes be scandalous, such as my older brother's exuberant proclamation whenever a "fire truck" would roll through the neighborhood with sirens blaring...except that he replaced the 'tr' in 'truck' with a second 'f'.  Apparently my parents had fun explaining Andy's early ability to drop 'F-bombs' like Joe Pesci in a Martin Scorsese film.

Of course at other times the newly minted word or phrase is just so picking adorable that you don't even bother correcting the child's mispronunciation because you like his or her version even better.  And that's what I would like to share with you today, my favorite alternative words that have sprung forth from the ingenious lips of my two daughters.

the repeated word

Elli's favorite technique is the linguistic and rhetorical use of the repeated word.  Exhibit A, from the ritual "Daddy's home!" greeting.  She will often run out to welcome me back after I have pulled into the garage after having gone somewhere.  Well for some reason I have a Fidget Spinner in the driver's side door compartment.  Aside from her screaming "Daddy's home!" each time I open the car door, Ellie went through this phase where she would additionally point to this magical spinning device and cry out, "You have a Pinner Pinner!", like a California gold-miner would exclaim "Eureka!" in 1849.  While I understand that 'Fidget Spinner' is a more technically accurate name for this hypnotic gadget, I'm personally convinced that Elli's alternative name is far more pleasing and marketable. 

A few other examples of the repeated word technique:

  • 'bang-bang' = band-aid  ("Daddy, I need a bang-bang!", after she's sustained any kind of minor skin injury.)
  • 'Lip-lip' = Chapstick  ("Daddy, can I have some lip-lip?", if her lips are dry.)

Other linguistic devices

There are other linguistic devices I have observed, such as the...

  • Multi-syllabic Confusion: Where a word that should be one syllable is turned into two or more syllables, such as 'cowels". Interpretation: 'cow'.
  • Replacing the Letter I Can't Say: Like in the alternative word "pee-pa".  Interpretation: 'pizza'.
  • Another Technically Accurate Way of Saying It: For example, why not replace the common expression "high five" with "hand tap".

my all-time favorite

You might be wondering why the featured picture for this post is that of a stack of delicious, syrup and butter-dripping pancakes.  Well that's because the all-time favorite example of my children's alternative vocabulary would be my oldest daughter's secondary designation for this parent-sanctioned morning dessert, what she calls "CAN-cakes".  That's right, why not wake up ever morning feeling empowered to conquer another day with "Melody's CAN-cakes!"  What's the alternative?  PAN-cakes?  So yes, technically the phrase, "It panned out", is a positive thing, ironically another expression that finds its origins in the California Gold Rush.  But CAN just sounds way better than PAN.  So if some business entrepreneur and savvy marketing specialist out there picks this idea up and creates a new, cash-cow (or should I say, "cash cowel") brand, please remember who came up with the idea and consider making a generous contributions to her college fund.