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It's All In The Timing

Written on January 3, 2008 10:40 PM

It’s interesting watching how kids learn the form of speech before they learn its content. When they are just tiny things, before they can even walk, they imitate our talk with their babble. They “cooo” in reply to our “hellos” and they “Blah blah” when we chitter to them about how cute and adorable they are. Then, when they are a little older, they imitate with more precision. But even though they pronounce words more clearly, and often use them in the right context, they don’t really have clue about the content and meaning of the language they’re using (just look back at my earlier post, “Where did the little f**cker go?”!)

Benny is definitely getting the handle on language these days – both form and content. Oh yes, and he sure loves his dexterity with language and the power it beholds. Like all four year olds I’m sure, he talks at all volumes, at all times, and accompanies his chat with varying degrees of whining, giggling, churlish sniffling, or joyful squeaking. He talks to himself or to his trains or to me, if I’m paying attention. He mostly likes to talk when he is supposed to be falling asleep at night. Even as his eyes are drooping with tiredness he chatters on about every event in his day and every flight of his colorful imagination.

Despite this exploding verbal ability, I was reminded this week that learning the form of language always comes first. We just spent a couple of days with my sister-in-law and family and Benny had a deliriously exciting time in the company of his two older cousins. When he wasn’t squeezed between them on the sofa, slack-jawed and in awe, watching them play their Pixar Cars video game, he was looking in wonder through his cousins’ seemingly infinite collection of toy cars, Legos, and plastic boats.

He had the same look of wonder one evening when his cousin and Grandpa decided to entertain everyone with some jokes. Now, even though Brad and I are incredibly funny people (if you’ve read my previous posts, you must understand how funny I am?!), neither of us are big into telling jokes. So when Benny was confronted with this new phenomenon of the joke, he was at first baffled and then delighted. It didn’t take him long to pick up on the rhythm and customs of joke-telling and joke-hearing.

Benny’s cousin: “What did the zero say to the eight?”
Everyone else in the room, including Benny: “I don’t know, what did the zero say to the eight?”
Benny’s cousin: “Nice Belt.”
Everyone else in the room, including Benny: groans and laughter.

Anyway, in the car yesterday, after leaving the family get together, Benny decided joke-telling would be a good way to while away the long journey.

“What did the seven say to the nine?” he would call out.
“I don’t know, what did the seven say to the nine?” Brad and I would chime back.
“Nice…” Benny would begin and then pause as he thought with his finger on his chin, “Nice nose!”

Then without pausing for breath, he’d be off again.

“What did the four say to the six?”
“I don’t know, what did the four say to the six?”
“Nice hair.”

Anyway, this “joke” telling went on for quite some time. The meaninglessness of the jokes becoming more pronounced with every wind and twist in the road. Yet in spite of their absurdity and seeming lack of content, they got funnier and funnier and we laughed harder each time (that is until we got a little lost, had to concentrate on the map, and thus had to nicely, then more firmly, tell Benny to quit with the joke-telling).

It seems we now have a comedian in the family. Benny might not have a clue about the content of the jokes he was telling but he’s got the timing down. He has also figured out, without realizing, that the old adage is true: repetition is the key to humor. Find that you’re audience are amused by a joke, then go ahead and flog it to death!

Don't forget to visit my Naptime Writer blog at http://joannerendell.blogspot.com/