Sass Factor

This morning I was prodding Trixie to stop playing with her markers and hurry up and put her shoes on, when she gave me an offhanded “Justa minnnet”.

I was like, what the hell? Where did you learn that? The answer, of course, is from everyone, everywhere. And unless the phrase or word is extremely specific, it’s next to impossible to pin down exactly where or at what point she picked up a particular piece of language.

This process is absolutely amazing to watch. And it’s actually one of those things that you do notice despite the fact that the change is incremental. It’s not like watching hair grow. You can see enormous advances over a single weekend as she acquires a new word, associates it with an object or action and then assembles it into a clunky, stilted verbal expression of what’s going on in her head.

Case in point: we beg her to go back to bed when she wakes up before 7am. A couple of days ago, she turned the tables on us. When I helped her back into her bed at 6:30 in the morning, she turned and pointed at me, “Go ta bed. Daddy. Now.” She knows that I badly want to go back to bed, but her articulation of that knowledge is so raw and straightforward that you can’t help but think that her brain is using brute force to string the words together in any way possible to get the point across.

She’s also learning new words at a record pace. On a whim I taught her the word “issues”. And I taught her to go poke at Mommy while chanting it. I stand at a safe distance and deny everything. She’s my secret language weapon and can never be turned against me. She’s going to be a hit at parties.

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23 Responses to Sass Factor

  1. justin says:

    Ben, have you read Stephen Pinker’s The Language Instinct? It’s a great introduction to linguistics and language acquistion, kind of a study in the human capacity for learning and using language.

  2. ThreePts says:

    Must be a bit of a shell shock to start having your daughter talk back to you. I guess it only gets worse.

  3. Judy says:

    Get ready….we used to laugh at my older son when he’d pop back with cute little things he said. Now, at almost 6, it isn’t so cute.

    Your “Justa minnnet” line reminds me of my son – he’s at the point that everything is completely literal, so if you tell him you are going to the store for a few things, he says, “A few is three, right?” Ugh. “Just a minute” is 60 seconds, and he can tell time. Your time is coming – rapidly!

  4. Nancy says:

    My 3-days-younger-than-Trixie son said “Wake up, Daddy!” when my husband closed his eyes in the car the other day. When told his father was in the potty while we were waiting in the car, he said “Oh. Da Poppy.” With the disappointment of a child who knows he’s going to be waiting for quite a while.

    It really is amazing how quickly they absorb and then spit out what you had no idea they were capable of.

  5. Aidan says:

    You’re absolutely right about the amazing speed with which kids acquire and use whole chunks of language in the right context. My son is just the same. He’s two in August. The other day my wife stalled the car backing it out of the drive and he said: “Oh dear, bumpy. Try again mummy.”

  6. Amanda says:

    My daughter Loren is just a few months younger than Trixie. Our new favorite party trick (not necessarily her daddy’s) is a question and answer session. See, when you ask Loren what color something is, her immediate response is YELLOW (her favorite color). So I ask her questions like… What color are Daddy’s teeth??? And she happily answers YELLOW! Everyone laughs, except poor Daddy, who miserably accepts his fate!

  7. hannah says:

    I think it was around this age that Sophie started using the F word. One morning a bird flew into our sliding glass door, again, and she said, “That fucking bird!” So beware, there are certain words they learn that you know they learned from you and it’s hard to unteach something that gets so much attention. And, BTW, I’m w/Trixie: give the girl a minute to get ready, Daddy.

  8. Tyler says:

    Just wait my Averie has a few months on Trixie and the other day she refused to take a nap. Poor mommy wanted to take a shower so deperatly from that morning so I gave up and parked her with some toys in the living room. And told her to play while I go shower. Went to the kichen for a min to come back and find her standing on the coffee table. After the yelling you know betters she started yelling right back. “No momma! Stop it! You go up and take bath right now!” As shock gets written across my face I open my mouth only to “NO MOMMA BATH NOW! YOU GO! UP STAIRS! Pointer finger out and all. And I hear its down hill from here. I think we need a new approach.

  9. Jennier says:

    This reminds me of my friend Amy. When she was growing up she, too, learned the F word at the tender age of two.

    She was first seen to use the word in describing frustration with the laws of gravity and aerodynamics. She was attempting to balance a penny on the spherical wooden adornment on the top of a banister on a four-poster bed. After repeated attempts, resulting in crawling off the bed, retrieving the penny from the floor, and attempting again to balance said penny on the sphere, she gave up – only to be overheard to excaim, “F*cking penny!”

  10. Elizabeth says:

    It is recorded that at the tender age of 4, my grandmother was trying to get her toy carriage into the house, and yelled, “Is someone going to help me get this g*d-d*mned doll buggy up the stairs?!”

  11. Amy says:

    Ahhh, I also learned some not-so-nice words at around 21 mos old or so. According to my mother, I was asked if I wanted to go feed the horse with my daddy and granddaddy. I did, but I didn’t have my sandals on. While taking my time putting them on (Trixie, I sympathize!), they left me. When I came out, now ready to go, I realized what had happened and yelled, while stomping my foot…”Well, dammit! They left me.” Heehee! We also learned this lesson with our son when he was about 2 1/2 (now 6). My dh got cut off in traffic one day and said “Son of a..” and Jonathan finished his sentence. LOL!

  12. sherry says:

    Oh good. I am glad I am not the only one with kids who repeat bad words that they hear from their less than perfect parents. As a mother of four girls, I know how it goes. Our girls also repeat things they shouldn’t. Needless to say, we try to be more careful of what we say around the kids!

  13. giddy says:

    Trixie’s “just a minute” brings to mind my own daughter–when she was little I used to rock her in the rocking chair before bed, saying, “Let’s rock a minute.” I didn’t realize until later that to her it was one long verb, “rockaminnit,” when she starting saying, “Mama, let’s rockaminnit a minute longer.”

    Language acquisition is one of the most interesting things! (I second the recommendation for Stephen Pinker’s book–it’s a little academic but really interesting if you like the topic.)

  14. FrumDad says:

    All this talk about the F-word… I have to tell this story. My parents went out to a movie when I was a wee bit (I was 3), and failing a babysitter took me along with ’em, figuring I’d sleep through it or just ignore it or whatever.

    They went to The Paper Chase, and were surprised to note that I sat quietly and watched the whole movie. They were particularly surprised when they were called to my pre-school the next day because, echoing a scene from that film, I stood up in class and told my teacher “F you!” complete with gesticulation.

    Tee hee.


  15. Jannet says:

    I have FOUR kids, a 7 year old, a 5 1/2 year old, and 11 month old twins. When my oldest was 23 months old, he used a few “bad words” himself. I believe the first time was when he dropped a lolly pop bigger than his head, resulting in it cracking into many tiny pieces… hes reaction, “SHIT, lolly-pops SUCK!!!”! I soon found him saying “Holly Shit”, along with phrases such as “god damnit” and “f*ck”… My daughter (the 5 1/2 year old) wasnt as bad, but started saying “ass hole” if anyone was rude to any of us… I just hope that the boys dont learn the “potty language” so early on. Now that the older children understand when I say “no” they really dont say horrible phrases anymore, since they WILL be punished! I am just glad to find out its not just my kids!

  16. cgarrett says:

    My neice, who is 2, is amazingly articulate. My eldest son did not really talk until 2, but she is speaking like a 5 year old. Anyhow, somewhere she learned the word “damnit.” Oh the hilarity that has ensued.
    “Gi’ me a foork, dammit!”
    “I poop-pooed my unnies, dammit!”
    Of course, this is perhaps only funny when you are the aunt and not the mom.
    And she too has the “just a minnet daddy,, i’m busy” thing going on.

    My nephew asked me after my second son was born;
    “Is Cole an immigrant?”


    “You know, an immigrant?”
    “Oh, a baby?? yes cole is a baby.”

    I Love it.

  17. melissa says:

    that’s a hoot! (the language weapon) I used to do something similar with my sister’s kid, but now that I have my own and know that payback’s a I’ve stopped. Wait til she starts making abstract connections – that is also amazing.

  18. Jenna says:

    I have a good story that is kind of language related.

    When I was three or four my Dad worked for a friend at a theater and sometimes hs job was to sell ice cream. He took me with him one night and I was sitting on a stool behind the counter a bit and I had shortish hair.

    A very heavy lady came to buy ice cream at the stand and said to my Dad, “Oh what a cute little boy!”

    I hated being mistaken for a boy. I was so mad I yelled back, “You fat pig!”

    Oh man did i get in trouble……..

  19. benmac says:

    I don’t have any good cursing stories yet. I’ll try to crank up the language around the house a little bit.

    justin: thanks for the The Language Instinct recommendation. It definitely sounds interesting, but I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to enjoy it. I used to read about 30-40 books a year. But that was before Trixie came along. Since she was born I have read zero. It’s sad 🙁

  20. Maddie's Mom says:

    Oh, Ben…you’ve read tons of books since Trixie’s birth. They’re just shorter with lots of pictures! Maddie hasn’t picked up any swear words yet, either; this is surprising, since Maddie’s Dad is not known for holding back.

  21. Sarah says:

    My brother once taught a friend’s 2 year-old to go up to people and say “My daddy is a rat bastard.” It went over like a lead brick.

  22. Maddie's Mom says:

    Aaargh. Since my last comment here a week ago, Madeleine has let loose with the swear words. I jinxed it. Latest example: We entered Loews Home Improvement Store. Maddie said, “It’s stinky in here, Mommy.” I asked (and this was my mistake), “What does it smell like?” Her reply? “Asses.”

  23. Lucy says:

    Ohh wow! My children (ages 4, 2.5 and 4 month old twins) are known for picking up EVERYTHING, including bad language! My four-year old was the first to start this, he started at around 2, and the funniest time was when I was at the counter paying for a few ice-cream cones and the top of his fell off when I handed it to him, he said “F*cking ice-cream… I want another g*d-damnit”, it was so funny, but a bit shocking as nearly everyone heard him! My 2.5 year old is learning as well, (similar to “Maddies Moms” expirience) as we were eating over at a friends house, and they were serving meatballs, she makes an ugly face saying “This stuff looks yucky”, (my friend who was serving it) “Oh, they are meatballs Cassie”, LOUDLY she says “they look like dog shit to me”… my husband was holding in laughter, and I was beet red… they figure out EVERYTHING way TOO FAST! Hah…