16 March 2011

it's complicated

Explaining idiomatic expressions, that is. Or at least explaining to a curious boy what you mean when you say "It's just an expression."

Like this one time I told him to look after his dad who was sick. When I got home from work, I asked him if he did what he promised to do. "Uhm-hmm," he nodded. Happily, I gave him a hug and said, "I'm so proud of you anak. I knew I could count on you!" And then with a puzzled look, he asked, "How will you count on me, mummy? 1-2-3?" 

On another day, he came up to my lap while I was working. I carried him down as I said, "Anak, I'm in the middle of something." "You're not, mummy," he mumbled. Some 30 minutes after, he came to my lap again, and I said and did the same things mechanically. I think I heard him say again, "No, you're not," but I simply ignored him. The same scene came up a few more minutes after that --I put him down while saying, "I'm in the middle of something." This time, he didn't just mumble, but almost yelled with annoyance, "You're not in the middle, mummy! You're in the left!" 

So there's no distinction between literal and figurative meanings when it comes to 5-year-olds. That doesn't help us at all when we have to deal with the confusion this makes on the meaning of compound words. 

Say, the word "earthquake." A word imagined literally as that of course got this child asking: 

"Dad, if there is an earthquake, and if there is only one earth, how come we don't feel it here?"  

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