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Glossary for a toddler learning to talk

17 Apr 14

I’m always so sure I’ll remember every significant moment in my kids’ lives: it always seems so wondrous, hilarious or infuriating that I couldn’t possibly forget. 

But there are so many moments, layered one on top of another; warped by exhaustion and irritation; lost into the mental back-up file of ‘not currently in use’; overwritten by new milestones; confused with the next child’s progress.

Often it isn’t until you’re watching your younger child grapple with the same milestone that the earlier memories of your older child come flooding back.

Son #1 watched and waited until he was 21 months old to start bothering with actual words. When he did he enjoyed inventing his own terminology. After watching the movie Happy Feet he started calling penguins ‘emus’. Nothing would budge him. We read him Edward the Emu. We took him to the zoo and showed him the emus. See: long legs, feathers, long neck, beak. Emu. We showed him the penguins, zooming around in their icy enclosure: ‘Emu!’ was his verdict.

At nearly 4 years of age, Son #1 still has his stubborn quirks. Upon spotting a ‘Dirty Long Legs’ in the corner of the ceiling he will demand the destruction of the offending arachnid immediately. I tried explaining that they’re actually called ‘Daddy Long Legs’ but he found the very idea that someone had named a spider after his father so ridiculous that I didn’t press the matter.

Son #2 (now 19 months old) has started speaking his own language – sometimes English, sometimes his own brand of toddler-ese. Partly for the sake of posterity and partly for the sake of any poor soul attempting to communicate with him, here is a glossary of some of his first attempts at the English language.

bu-Bu-BUUUUU!: bus. Every bus. Always said three times, in ever increasing volume and excitement. Repeated on loop if you fail to give the correct response – ‘Yes! A bus!’ Driving with him in peak public transport hour is a nightmare.

Cruck!: those fabulous massive boxes on wheels that roar past our poor little car, rattling our windows as they go.

Gar-gar: a construction vehicle which digs holes. May also be used indiscriminately in reference to bulldozers, tractors and cranes.

Cray: It’s not surprising, really, that this was one of his first words. There is a plane hanging from the ceiling above his brother’s bed, there are posters of planes on his brother’s bedroom walls, extravagant and unlikely planes are conjured out of Duplo on an almost daily basis, there are a dozen or so toy planes overflowing out of boxes in the lounge room and several dozen models of planes aredisplayed safely behind glass in Daddy’s study.

Ta-ta: the hot food of choice that he would happily consume every day – with bolognese sauce and plenty of cheese.

Daddy: Daddy. Also Mummy, Nanny, Pa and whoever else regularly gives him cuddles, food and cause for giggles.

Muuuuuuuuu-mmy!: his word for me, but only when he wants something. Sigh.

Tay:  a little obscure, but here are your clues: once was a caterpillar, has large, often colourful, wings. Likes to feed on flowers. He’s obsessed with them and they adorn a surprising number of picture books which otherwise have absolutely nothing to do with butterflies.

Mmm: the sound that cows make (also their name, apparently).

Gucky!: a comment on his first taste of a cherry tomato.

Cuggles!: as he climbs into my lap, wraps his arms around me and snuggles his head into my neck.

Oo nigh: his melodic evening farewell to each character in his In the Night Garden book as they are put to bed, one by one, at the end of the story.

I know I need to teach him to speak ‘properly’ and it’s wonderful when he gets a word right so that everyone else can understand him as well. But I will miss this special toddler language. At least I’ll be able to look back on this blog and not have to rely on my sieve-like memory.





Rebecca Stephens is a Melbourne writer, blogger and Mum to two gorgeous, inquisitive and non-stop little boys. Visit her blog 

Seeing the Lighter Side of Parenting

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