Your youthful malapropisms

Since today is Saturday, I’m doing what I always do on days ending in “Y” and taking a break from writing about science topics. I could argue, however, that the following garbage might be vaguely associated with linguistics and hence, at a broader level, childhood or developmental psychology. I know nothing about these.
When I was two or three, I would sometimes have ginger ale and potato chips for a snack. For whatever reason I took to calling these “see-soo” and “tip-tips” respectively. This was clearly a formative language sort of thing; I heard the right words and jumbled them somewhere between Broca and Wernicke, and it was some time before I started spitting out the right terms for this healthful repast. I think I was about 30.


I also remember going to Cinema 93 with my dad to see the Dino de Laurentis remake of King Kong. This film was released was in 1976, so I would have been six years old. As many know, the climax featured Kong scrambling around atop not the Empire State Building but the then-brand-new World Trade Center. I became an immediate fan of the movie, drawing endless pictures of Kong wreaking havoc on everyone and everything and collecting King Kong jigsaw puzzles. The thing is, I couldn’t keep the name of the skyscrapers straight and kept caling the WTC the “Happy Day Care Center.” My parents thought this was pretty goddamned funny, and now I see why. But in contrast to see-soo and tip-tips, this error was not a language issue per se; by that age I, and I imagine all “normal” kids, have developed whatever psychomotor skills are required to translate something heard into something correctly spoken.
I was fairly verbal as a child (though I’ve since lost the ability to ramble on ad nauseam about nothing at all), so perhaps my parents, who both read htis blog (and by, are they proud!) , will remind me of additional examples. However, given that so many of the regulars here are incredibly strange and disturbed, I’d be interested in hearing about everyone else’s childhood language quirks, goofs, and other delights. If you’re embarrassed about these today, just post them anyway and I promise not to tell anyone.

11 thoughts on “Your youthful malapropisms”

  1. Well, not youthful perhaps, but a language learner anyway. I taught a coworker, who was not a native speaker, how to use the Unix command shell, where the tilde character (~) has a certain importance. Now, through some mechanism as you mention above, or simple mishearing, she took to calling this the dildo character. Obviously she must have heard the word before, but, I presume, not understood what it meant, or, I dare not imagine what she figured the symbolism of it standing for the home directory might be…

  2. I used to point at the record player and say “ootie”. Not sure if I meant the music or the player, but it wound up on a record-player shaped cake on my birthday.

  3. I used to point at the record player and say “ootie”. Not sure if I meant the music or the player, but it wound up on a record-player shaped cake on my birthday.

  4. That’s funny, kai! Of course, we native speakers know from an early age that “dildo” is actually the main character in J.R.R>. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”

  5. When I was young, I couldn’t say the word ‘grapes’. From then on, we ate ‘warps‘. Still do…

  6. When I was in high school I played in a “band” with a few of my friends. We sucked, especially the bass player. My friend Bart was kind of the leader, and he wrote a song called “Steakum Tastes Like Pussy”. The thing is, I don’t think that was really the title. It sure sounded that way, but I never heard Bart swear once in his life and he sure never got any pussy either. I should ask him what that song was. I might even have a cassette tape at my parents’ house of one of the few times we actually played that song, in Adam’s basement, with Bart singing. Man that was a long time ago.

  7. I had a tendency to swap compound words, sort of like in a Romance language. For example, I used to call the lawn mower the “cutter grass”.
    Like many kids, I had a bunch of stuffed animals. Many of them were dogs. Somewhere along the line I received a tiger. Not knowing what a tiger was, I called it a “doggy”. After being corrected several times that it was a tiger, I finally settled on calling it “tiger doggy”. I was explaining this to friend once and after saying that I had a stuffed tiger when I was little he immediately started to laugh and asked if it was named “Hobbes”.
    Many of the adults I know well have special words. I don’t know if they are hold-overs from childhood or words that were created as married adults. For example, one couple I know refer to chocolate brownies as “owbries”, sort of an acoustic anagram-pig latin thing. My wife and I often say “duhmaydoes” instead of “tomatoes”. I don’t remember how it started.

  8. When my daughter was just under 2, she called the air conditioner “disherman”. She could never figure out how many syllables were in “cucumber” – it would come out something like “kingcumbumcumbum”. She wouldn’t eat “mushdoors” – a door’s part of a room, isn’t it? She still won’t eat them 18 years later, but now she says it’s because they’re related to athlete’s foot.

  9. On the flip side of the coin, how early do kids learn to deliberately play games with words? My wife and I have always played word games and delight in making puns. My daughter’s first original pun arrived at age 4. She was watching me make dinner, and I was using a three-tined cooking fork. She got this fiendish grin and said, “Daddy, that’s not a fork; it’s a threek!” And so it remains today.

  10. ‘d be interested in hearing about everyone else’s childhood language quirks, goofs, and other delights.

    Why not just read Gribbit instead?

  11. Manduca, your daughter is absolutely right. Mushrooms are related to athlete’s foot.
    For myself, I remember my father barbecuing hamburgers on the “drill.”

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