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Essay

Smashed Potatoes and Roast Beast

Sometimes what comes from a child's mouth sounds delightfully right

September 19, 2004|Paul Vercammen | Paul Vercammen last wrote for the magazine about Little League all-star team selections.

Brooke Vercammen, a mix of neon blue eyes and wheat-colored hair, just skipped into kindergarten last month, and my biggest fear as a parent is someone is going to try to rub the cute off her.

I'm worried that Brooke's "speriments" with the English language will vanish with all that education. I'm concerned this book learning will end years of family giggling when she makes up her own terms.

Brooke has shown a knack for hammering together compound words and new definitions as she explores vocabulary with her 9-year-old brother, Cole, my wife, Debra, and me.

I regret that many of her witticisms blew through one ear and out the other, but some stuck, like a kid's wet kiss on your cheek.

So here goes a glossary five years in the making of what sounds right to one child trying to reckon with the daunting number of words we know as American English.

Bee Hide: The honeycombed place where those flying rascals with stingers stay secluded.

Smashed Potatoes: Pulverized white spuds that mom puts on the dinner plate. Sometimes they come with gravy.

Sand Cheese: Italians call it Parmesan, but it looks like the grainy stuff at the beach.

Werewolves: A basketball team from Minnesota. The Lakers beat them in the NBA Western Conference Finals.

Spikies: A Sunday morning phenomenon, when the bristles of dad's two-day beard become annoying to a child's touch.

Old People: Anyone over 18 years old.

CDD: One of those discs grown-ups put in machines that either show pictures or play music from old people such as U2.

Tow-Trucking: The act of pulling anything with wheels, including wagons and a broken-down Cadillac from her great-grandmother's house.

Newseum: Place where they keep a lot of old stuff on display.

Curly Turn: Adults call it a hairpin turn. When negotiated incorrectly on a bicycle it results in a bloody knee followed by two Band-Aids and a Popsicle.

Colorish: Brooke's tongue became colorish after she consumed a Popsicle.

Blower Thing: A dandelion, as in the flower you blow on to make a wish.

Scholarskit: Teenagers need one to help pay for college.

Neil Young: Rock singer who sounds just like the Gingerbread Man from "Shrek."

Digesting Frogs: What scientists do during some "speriments."

Chest: A game people play. Sometimes they yell checkmate.

Tummersault: A cross between a tumble and a somersault. It could lead to a trip to the emergency room.

Roast Beast: The meat many adults put on their sandwiches. (Give Dr. Seuss an assist here.)

TV Test: The "speriment" some doctors made on Brooke's brother to make sure he wasn't going to contract tuberculosis, or maybe an addiction to television.

Out of Bounce: Doing something outside the lines, or where stray tennis balls end up.

Mush-Saj: What dad needed after too many people at work acted up.

Cave Troll: The role dad plays when he tickles and attacks the children with pillows, somehow reminiscent of a scene from "The Lord of the Rings."

Brooke has already begun modifying her vocabulary, correcting terms. We all concede, grudgingly, our radiant bundle of improper but logical English will conform to modern usage and style with the guidance of her teachers.

But that doesn't mean Brooke's terminology will stop rolling, like a broken Hot Wheel, off all our tongues. Family dinners will still feature Brooke, Cole, Debra and me asking each other to pass the smashed potatoes and sand cheese.

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