18 September 2010

Use Your Words

For toddlers, using newly-acquired language skills is really hard. Preschool teachers are always reminding kids to "Use your words", instead of using a right roundhouse to express their feelings more directly. Even my relentlessly verbal daughter would sometimes resort to "point and grunt", and, when her rudimentary vocabulary proved frustratingly inadequate, was occasionally reduced to smacking a schoolmate upside the head. (Some things never change. Eighteen years later Tuffy is still relentlessly verbal, and still smacks people upside the head. At least now she does it at the gym.)

On one occasion a teacher broke up a physical altercation between two little boys, telling them to use their words. One of the combatants marched up to the other, got right in his face, and shouted, "WORDS!!!"

My dad tells a story about a long-ago conversation between his older brother and a high school counselor. My uncle did well in science and math, but saw no point in studying English. When the counselor pointed out that mastery of grammar and spelling would make my uncle better able to express himself, my uncle replied, "I ain't never had no trouble expressin' myself." I'm not sure the story is really relevant, but I've always liked it. My uncle was a real jerk.

I've always thought I had a reasonable facility with words. Now that I find myself having to use words and nothing else, I'm learning that it's a lot harder than you'd think.

For example.

One of our regular weekend tasks is clearing off the detritus that accumulates on top of the desk in the office. It's something I used to do myself, because Scarecrow doesn't much care where stuff winds up. Now that I can't shuffle or file papers myself, I need Scarecrow to open envelopes, extract contents, sort stuff into piles to be paid, or filed, or otherwise dealt with, and file the papers that we need to keep. It sounds easy enough. The physical part of manipulating paper isn't something you have to think about. Until you have to do it using your words.

To keep things simple, let's assume I can actually think of the words I want to use, which is not always the case. The routine goes something like this:

"Can I see that? No, the other one... the one on the left. On the left. Put it on my keyboard, so I can see it. The first page. The one on the top. Closer. Not that close. OK, can I see the next page? No, the backside... turn the page over. You can recycle the rest of the stuff. Where did that come from? No, not that... keep the statement, the first two pages. Put it in the pile to be paid. The second pile. Second from the left. Stack it so I can see the balance and the due date. OK, that was easy. Next?"

The only reason it goes as easily as it does is that Scarecrow has developed an uncanny ability to read my mind. If I had to do this chore with anybody else, it would be a lot harder.

Situations that take a whole lot of words to do something really easy come up all the time. You have no idea. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, but I tell you what: when all you've got is the thousand words, just being able to do the point part of "point and grunt" would save me about 10 zillion words a day. And I'm not exaggerating.

Sometimes I just want to whap somebody upside the head.


  1. LOL, I feel ya. I do not have a Scarecrow, I have an artist. UGH. AND I have a NYU film school grad DIRECTOR. (follow?) This activity you describe leads to fights and "FORGET IT." Oh well. You are lucky. Tuffy--LOL. I am afraid according to all, I was waayy verbal waay soon. Afraid soesn't LOOK right...hmm. Anyhoo, I only beat up bullies. I did want to box, but MS got me first. (And I lived across from Gold's Gym. DRAT.) I feel like I'm running my mouth now. AND try telling a Kenya caregiver what to do with toilet paper and how to make instant oatmeal. Ugh.

  2. Oh Zoom, what a nightmare -- I can't imagine. As someone who organizes and re-organizes the piles of bureaucratic paperwork that come into our lives, I can't imagine articulating this process to someone. Much less all of the other needs that arise. I've only had a tiny wee taste of this when with my family which is frustrating as I have word finding problems. However, I know it's not anywhere in the ballpark of what you're talking about -- I've got functional hands.

    Maybe TinMan could design a "whap somebody upside the head" function into the cup holder that could be activated by your chin. Or better yet, it could be activated with a retinal scanning device that detects evil glares.

    In any case, may the words be with you.

  3. so very funny, Zoom... but I'm sure it's frustrating for you. I have similar interactions, but my words get louder as the frustration builds! I can't wait for technology that will read our thoughts then act upon them. Oh, wait a sec, I'd really need a good filter before I could use it!

  4. Oh Zoom, I feel your pain. When it comes to communication, my husband and I are complete opposites. I tend to be brief and concise, and he tends to be long-winded and detailed. When he explains something to me my eyes glaze over, and when I explain something to him he doesn't understand my simplicity. This does not bode well for my future, I'm afraid. Yes. I'm afraid.