Saturday, January 19, 2013


One of the funniest things my son has ever said – and believe me, that bar is set pretty high – was when we had the following exchange:

Ryan (holding a toy truck): Mama, may I nun you with my impact hammer?
Me: May you what?
Ryan: YOU know, Mama. (Pokes me repeatedly with the truck) Nun nun nun nun nun…

As I’ve discussed in the past, I’m not generally a fan of “verbing,” or creating random verbs out of nouns, at least not when the newly-created words do not in any way enrich the English language. But at the same time, I am a big fan of onomatopoeia (so much so that I didn’t even have to look it up in order to spell it correctly), so creation of novel and expressive verbs that are onomatopoeic is an entirely different category. And it is a category that my son excels in.

There may not be a great need for a word that expresses poking someone repeatedly with a toy truck or other small object, but on the rare occasions that do call for such a word, “nun” is exactly what is called for.

“Nun” is not the only onomatopoeia that my son has coined recently. The other day, he was building some block towers and I heard one come crashing down. I asked him what had happened and he replied, “I ka-chunged it.” Not just “I knocked it down,” but “I ka-chunged it.” Knocking it down could have been caused by any number of factors, including accidentally bumping into it or overbalancing it with one block too many, but ka-chunging it implies a certain deliberation and intent, not to mention an unnecessary use of force.

There are many verbs that he needs to invent to include the deliberate use of unnecessary force. Yesterday afternoon, he informed me, “Mama, you are the bad guy, and I am going to hi-ya you.” The most accurate existing English phrase he could have used is probably “karate chop,” which indicates a striking motion with the side of the hand. But as anyone who has ever seen a 3-year-old imitating martial arts moves knows, this is a less-than-full description of how that child performs a karate chop. A hi-ya, as performed by a 3-year-old, includes the full body following through the motion of the arm, and often also includes a cartoon-like flying up into the air and landing on the posterior. It also usually involves a complete lack of contact with the intended target. All of that information is included in the verb “to hi-ya” in a way it most certainly is not in the verb “to karate chop.”
I am proud of the way my son is contributing to the development and enrichment of the English language. He definitely isn’t on his way to becoming the next Bruce Lee, but he just might turn out to be the next Shakespeare. After all, it was Shakespeare himself who said, “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.”
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