Less is more?

Tom, our grandson, is “sixteen, going on seventeen”. Months, that is. And his vocabulary, it must be said, is somewhat limited. To him, all female humans are “Mammas”, all males are “Daddas”, all four-legged creatures are “Dogs”and all four-wheeled vehicles are “T’actors”.

He also has only one word for our feathered friends. It is “Duck”. Whether a cockerel is crowing or a warbler is warbling, it’s all the same to him. “Duck!” he says, with a certainty that brooks no argument.

Recently, we took him for a walk in the grounds of a stately home. Rounding a corner, he came face to face with a magnificent peacock. Advancing on stiff, arrogant legs, the bird looked quizzically at our grandson, its head on one side – obviously wondering if anything digestible might be on offer. Deciding that a little bribery might help, it shook itself and then spread its plumage in a blaze of iridescent blues and greens.

Tom was unimpressed. He pointed an accusatory finger. “Duck!”, he said, emphatically.

The peacock, understandably affronted, arched its neck and let out a piercing scream – the sort of sound a tormented soul might utter in one of the lower regions of Hades. Tom, who had never encountered such an ear-splitting duck before, stared wide-eyed for several moments and then burst into tears.

It was after this incident that I began to muse on what it would be like if we all had to make do with such a limited vocabulary. Would a young man enthuse about taking “this gorgeous duck out to dinner”? Would the man with the piercing stare appreciate being described as “duck-eyed”? Would culinary life be as enjoyable if we all consumed Duck’s Custard and Ducks-eye Fish-fingers”? Would Shakespeare sound the same if “the duck himself was hoarse that croaked the fatal entrance of Duncan neath our battlements”? Or Shelley – “Hail to thee blithe spirit – duck thou never wert…”?

So many symbols would change, too: we’d have the duck of peace, the last duck of summer, blue ducks over the white cliffs of Dover, and red-breasted ducks on our Christmas cards.

My mind (and yours, too, I shouldn’t wonder) began to boggle. It was all too much for me. I decided I needed a change of scene. I got into my t’actor and drove off at speed, narrowly avoiding a herd of dogs on their way to milking. Please God, let Tom learn some more words soon!


4 Responses to “Less is more?”

  1. 1 Linda February 9, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    It’s the notion of them pointing at any man you could care to meet and exclaiming “Dadda” that I find most alarming/entertaining, I can’t decide which!

    Great blog – I’m adding a link. (Athcherly :))
    Good luck.

  2. 2 Kristin February 9, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Hi Tom,

    I saw your post on Writers Circle and thought I’d come over and see what you’ve written. Excellent job! I love your sense of fun!

    I have a peacock and know all too well the blood curdling scream they make. This wayward peacock has opted to call my place home for the last few years. He’s settled in with all my wild turkeys. The last few years my heart has really broken for him as he does his little mating dance–in full regalia trying to impress the turkeys. They aren’t the least bit interested–yet I do see a look of amusement on their faces. Thinking of buying him a peahen this spring—imagine, twice the noise!

    And fear not, if your grandson doesn’t learn any other words he’ll at least be able to take a dog to dinner in his t’actor and order duck.

    Best wishes!


  3. 3 johnchap February 9, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Kristin

    Actually (or atcherley) I’m John – it’s the grandson who is Tom. But thanks for your comment. I was starting to get discouraged, but you have cheered me up! I think I’m beginning to see the way forward…

    I hope you manage to get the peahen. Who knows, you might soon have some peachicks (or ducklings …)

    All good wishes,


  4. 4 Kristin February 9, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Sorry John about the name mix up–you seem to be an unforgettable character so hopefully I won’t make the mistake again!

    🙂 Kristin

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