Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mother, May I?

"Mom, can I see the brush?"

I file through my mental tween translator, and understand this to mean, "Mom, may I please have the hairbrush?  I'd like to run it through my hair and make it look presentable."

While I don't expect my ten year old to speak in such an extensive way, I have discovered an increasing sensitivity to the kinds of verbal shortcuts that undermine the authenticy of our language.

"Sure," I say.  I pick up the hairbrush that is next to me and dangle it by my side.  "Can you see it?"

A look of confusion enters her eyes until she realizes that I am demonstrating my new, passive way of cleaning up the English skills of my children.

She laughs.  "Mother, may I please use the hairbrush?"

Aha!  I act as if a light has gone off and I can finally understand her intention.  I happily hand it over.

She has learned two grammatical lessons here.  First, be specific.  Does she want to SEE the brush, or USE the brush?  I just had her vision tested, and it was a perfect 20/20.  So, clearly, she can SEE the brush.  Oh, but that isn't sufficient to untangle her hair.

The other is the age old misuse of can/may.  CAN she see the brush?  Again, the little black letters on the illuminated white board at the doctor's office indicate that she doesn't have any occular difficulties.  Yes, she CAN see the brush.

I have had fun with this one in the kitchen, as well. 

"Mom, can I eat a cookie?
Last time I checked, her jaw functioned well, so there is no physical abnormality preventing her from eating the cookie.

"Yes."  Her face lights up, and her arm stretches out.

"Oh," I say, as I put my hand out to stop her.  "Did you mean 'MAY I eat a cookie?'"  She thinks for a second and grins.  I'm glad that she's taken such a cheerful approach to my new game.

"MAY I eat a cookie?"


This bantering has extended to that Valley Girl call word, "like", as in, "The sky, is, like blue."  "He's, like, so cute."

I can forgive this typical blunder on the part of my children because they are surrounded by it.  But, it REALLY ruffles my feathers when I hear a professional say it, as demonstrated by an anchorwoman just the other day. 

But, I play my Literal Game anyway so that they don't, like, grow up into Dumb Blonde stand-ins.  (*No blondes were harmed during this dissertation.*)

Six year old, after watching our dogs frollic:  "That was, like, so funny!"

I look at her with an intentionally flummoxed expression.  "That was LIKE so funny?  Or, was it so funny?"

She has the same good nature about it as my older daughter.  "It was SO funny", she amends.  The habit has not broken just yet, but we are at least having a good laugh about it every time the four-letter "L" forward forms on her tongue.

I give myself an imaginary pat on the back and want to reward myself with one of the sugary goodies in the See's box that Grandma sent last week.  "Can I have a chocolate?" I wonder.  "It would, like, really hit the spot."

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