This morning I taught Chinese to a group of Puerto Rican kids in a New Haven summer camp. They were cute, eager, baffled. One detail: as I spread my arms to teach them the character meaning "big," (which looks like a person arms outspread) I noticed them giggling and looking at my belly. I looked down. My shirt was too short. I was wearing bright red underwear (bought in Taiwan). I hammed it up, tucked my shirt in. Funny kids. Amazing how quickly they pick up sounds.
My adorable little niece was prattling away as we ate dinner on the deck. "Buzzy's making a house," she announced to me, using a name for an imaginary bee I had talked about. I asked what with, and she said, "With flowers." I asked if I could go to Buzzy's new house, and she said, "No, he's hiding!" I insisted I wanted to go in the house and she hesitated, and said, "No, Buzzy's house is too. . .(here we are thinking, 'small') rumbly!" We all laughed at the inadvertently poetic associations of little kids. Was she connecting the word rumbly to the word "bumble" for bumble bee? Or something else? How perfect.
"parents" is a new word that she is still pleased with, telling me she is "going to see my parents," apparently a different set of people from her mom and dad.
My little nephew, 5 years old, is constantly eager to do rhetorical battle with me, telling me exactly how he is "destroying" me or "burning" me. He threw couch pillows at me, saying they were "fire," and that "fire destroys people." I said he was right, I was dead, but I was living again. (I was too tired to fight fire with even more creativity, after class). He said, always quick with a one-upping opportunity, "I'm gonna tell Jesus not to live you again!" He has often turned intransitive verbs into transitive ones, or even used nouns as verbs ("I'm gonna magic you").
"enemy" is one of his recent words, pronounced "emeny." Also, "nonsense." When I one upped him by saying he was "nonsense," he said I was ridiculous, and "ridiculous is more than nonsense." I had taught him ridiculous.
He is loving the words "booty" and "butt," to his mother's unending annoyance. I try to divert him by mutating the words back to him as "mooty" or "crutt," but he is not distracted. Also, I think he picked up "whatever" as a catchall cool shield from scrutiny from kindergarten classmates. Wow. Premonitions of adolescence at age 5.
New words are toys for kids, full of pleasure and the strangeness of unfamiliarity, as well as the excitement of something new opened up for one, a dumb object suddenly accessible and meaningful, like a magic cave appearing where only rock was before.