Headfirst into the traps of language

As we near the end of the school year, teachers will be turning their minds to the job of school reports. They will judge the academic merits of each child against their peers. Parents will check the marks and comments, then judge their child accordingly.

It is my belief that in each child there lurks genius; you just have to know where to look.

Their opinions on world matters are being disseminated from a very early age, if you care to listen.

Take, for example, Cooper. He is 3 and his love of diving head first into couches, bean bags and sisters has led his mother, Hayley, to enrol him in a gymnastics class.

However, as I will point out, Cooper has used this platform to demonstrate his dedication to Queen and Commonwealth.

There he is standing on the edge of the mat at gym class and, in his mother's mind, on the precipice of Olympic glory, when the gymnastics teacher says: "Now what animal would you like to be?"

Cooper seems to be indecisive.

"Would you like to be a giraffe?"

"No," he says.

"A lion?"

"No," he says.

The choice of animal has absolutely nothing to do with gymnastic greatness but will at least expand his imagination and encourage flow and movement. The gym teacher recites a list of animals is as long as Noah's but Cooper does not agree to be any of God's creatures. Finally, he is struck with inspiration and announces:

"I want to be a lady."

The teacher and Cooper rise to their tippy-toes, pull their elbows in to their waists and use their hands to flutter away across the mat.

No-one else in the children's gym class seems at all concerned that Cooper wants to be a lady, and that he believes all ladies walk on their toes and flap with their hands.

It soon became clear that Cooper's choice from the list of animals was in fact "ladybug".

It could be that Cooper was taking a stance on anthropological linguistics. He clearly annunciated the "lady" part of the word, but lowered his voice to the point of imperceptibility on the "bug" part due to his commitment to British English. One can only conclude Cooper is against the Americanisation of language.

However, there can be no doubt Cooper is still struggling to understand the biological sciences.

I pulled up outside his house to babysit this week. By the time I encountered the little ladybug, he was ready with a question.

"You got here in your Winky Road, eh?"

A clarification. I drive a car called Nissan Wingroad. It has such an unusual name that I never really call it my car, I call it The Wingroad.

Somehow, Cooper has become confused with two very different things. In his family, "winky" is the euphemism for vagina. I am not driving around town in a vagina. Perhaps I could have explained this to him, but it didn't seem like the right moment.

I don't know. Perhaps I'm wrong and we're not looking at some untapped genius. I took the possibility up with his mother. Could he have such strong feelings on the humanities but be failing in science?

"I don't know," Hayley said. "Last week he looked at me and said, 'me came out of your hole, eh mum'?"

This clears up nothing. Yes, he is biologically correct, he did, in fact, come out of a hole but why did he have to make such a gross error on the personal possessive pronoun?

At least one thing is clear. If he makes it through his teenage years emotionally unscarred, his 21st speech is going to cap him off entirely.

Fairfax Media