Verbal illiteracy

Recently, my daughter showed up in the kitchen with a copy of Norma Charles’s Catching a Star.

“Mommy,” she said, “the satin’s reebels in this book are SO bad!”

“The what?”

“The satin’s reebles.”

“The what reebels?”

By this time, she was getting a little frustrated. It turns out she was talking about the Satan’s Rebels, the motorcycle gang in the book. You’d think, as a Sunday-school attending kid, she’d know how to pronounce “Satan,” but apparently not.

And I couldn’t laugh at her too hard, because I still haven’t lived down a mistake I made when I was about her age. My parents were teasing me about something and I said, “Stop it. You’re hurting my eggo.”

This did not help with the teasing issue.

It’s a problem that all of us insatiable readers face, even as adults — though we know the word, and we know what it means, we don’t always know how to say it. Our literary vocabulary is bigger than our spoken.

If I’m going to read something aloud to an audience, even if it’s something I wrote myself, I always, always practice first. You never know what tricky pronunciations could be hiding in there.

And I’m still awed by people who can throw big words into conversation, without hesitation. My friend Joanna called her brother “recalcitrant” once. And my old boss, Robin, called a co-worker “lugubrious.” How impressive is that?

4 thoughts on “Verbal illiteracy

  1. I announced to my grade 4 teacher that pre-juice,(prejudice) was one of the world’s problems. She laughed. I still remember.

  2. I remember reading a recipe out loud to my mom, in my junior high years, so I was about 12 (well read, excellent student, etc.) I read the word pint but pronounced it with a short I sound to rhyme with hint. I had just never come across the word before and it made sense that it should be pronounced that way. My mom laughed so hard.

    I was just joking with my husband the other day that if no one had ever corrected me, I’d probably still be walking around calling it a pint (short I) of beer and getting odd looks from those around me.

  3. Your poor daughter to be tramatized by those ‘Satin Rebeels! But she’s lucky too, to be surrounded by books and such a book worm of a mother.
    I hope she managed to get to the end of the book to see that Sophie saves the day and those Rebeels are severely dealt with.

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