Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 21, 2007

Kids Talk Straight With Crooked One-Liners

I’ve been writing some this week, but it’s mostly been bitchy, shallow and self-involved. So I thought I’d self-edit for once and spare everyone the whining.

Instead, I’ll tell a cute story about my son:

Tonight we were reading one of those old Golden Books before bedtime, a mediocre retelling of the David and Goliath story from the Bible. (We don’t as a rule overdo the heavy-handed religious instruction with him, but a good story’s still a good story, and this is one of the more accessible ones from the Old Testament.)

At one point I broke in and said that David was “one of our ancestors”. Technically, it’s only true for Sue and Graham, as some recent family tree data uncovered by Sue’s sister revealed they had a German-Jewish ancestor about eight generations back. I must admit it stirred some pride and amusement in me, to think that my descendents will inherit a drop or two of Jewish heritage. As a Christian, I’ve always claimed David as a spiritual forefather (a great poet, a good dancer, politically savvy, and a passionate if flawed individual… sounds like my kind of guy!) But theological connection is just not the same as actual blood ties to the so-called Chosen People, so I’m glad at least Graham can lay claim to those ties.

Back to the story: as I mentioned the word ancestor to him, it occurred to me that Graham, being five, might not know this word yet. So I asked him if he knew it.

His reply was classic: “Yeah. It’s like our aunts and sisters.”

I laughed pretty hard at that. He had used odd, childlike logic, sound-alike linguistic thinking, and an intuitive sense of context to arrive at a definition that –while not entirely accurate– was at least in the ballpark.

Okay, so maybe it’s only a funny story for a geek like me interested in linguistics and word origins. Nevertheless, it seemed a tale at least worth repeating. Especially since most of what I ever learned about good comedy, I got either from Jews or from children.

Graham Nielsen: the Henny Youngman/Woody Allen/Jerry Seinfeld/Jon Stewart of Generation Z… coming soon to a comedy club or kindergarten near you.


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