Can your children say or sing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious? If they can, they’ve probably enjoyed the Walt Disney film Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Audiences today are flocking to see Saving Mr. Banks, starring Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the author of the classic book on which the musical film was based, and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself. Although the film was originally released in 1964, it speaks to children of every generation with it sprightly tunes and amusing lyrics.
The word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” wasn’t a real word; it was invented by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, the two brothers who wrote the songs used in the film. At one point, Julie Andrews, playing the title of role of the English nanny, Mary Poppins, says, “You can say it backwards, “dociousaliexpalisticfragicalirupus.” Children have no problem with the slightly magical made-up word, proving that when children are having fun, big words aren’t a problem.
Big words, strange words, new words, and those with interesting histories can the building blocks in discovering the delight of language. Unfortunately, in the age of Twitter, it is far likelier that your children or grandchildren are using different kinds of words in their daily expression. Often this means inserting the unnecessary expression, “y’know” into every other sentence, along with the interpolation of the word “like” every time the speaker opens his mouth.
What are you doing?” is a perfectly legitimate question . But what are we to make of the response, “I’m …like….thinking.” In fact, the speaker isn’t thinking at all or he wouldn’t speak this way. As for “y’know,” we hear it so often there is a temptation to echo the criticism of the broadcaster Edwin Newman who wrote extensively on the subject. I try to restrain myself from saying, “No, I don’t know, and if you think I know, why are you telling me again?” Expressing this point of view wouldn’t get rid of “y’know” or “like,” and would undoubtedly result in the speaker accusing his critic of being a snob in regard to language.
Then there is the word “awesome.” This is a word which has become of the most tiresome, overused words in our language. Speakers should remember that if everything is “awesome,” then nothing is really awesome at all. But one person after another uses “awesome” in place of every other available adjective.
Adjectives? Unfortunately, there’s another grammatical term that is clearly out of fashion. In fact, Twitter, with its one line messages and texting, used in billions of messages of around the world, encourages people to speak in abbreviations. It’s much easier for a writer to depend on a few such abbreviations (“LOL” or “laugh out loud” instead of explaining why something is incredibly amusing.)
Have your children read some of the greatest speeches in American history? Perhaps the most famous speech of all was delivered at a public gathering in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The audience was reportedly mesmerized by Edward Everett, considered the finest orator of his day. Everett delivered an extensive and long speech in honor of the soldiers who had died at the Battle of Gettysburg. But history would provide a far different verdict on the speeches of the day. The speech that would be remembered by future generations was delivered by a speaker who fully expected his short address would be overshadowed by Everett and totally forgotten. But Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” remains the most celebrated public speech in our history.
Consider many of today’s political speeches. Politicians and government bureaucrats pepper their speeches with references to acronyms for various agencies, abbreviations for public policy positions, and hackneyed phrases. It is not unusual to hear a politician refer to a few points and then end his sentence with the word “whatever,” meaning that virtually any other words could be substituted for the ones he has just used.
If you discover that your children haven’t read the Gettysburg Address, don’t be surprised.
They are likely not to be reading books either unless the books have been assigned to them in school.
Reading books for pleasure is seriously on the decline.
We are told that students are busy reading on line, but again, the question of what they or reading (or how well they read) may be typically unanswered. The delight of language can be experienced in many ways, through reading, writing, and speaking.
To insure that your children and grandchildren will truly experience the delight of language, you have to make a positive effort to see that they make such a discovery.
The speech we hear on television and on internet videos is often simplistic, crude, and incredibly vulgar. The lyrics of pop songs, especially those created and performed by rock and rap groups, make such speech commonplace. So even small children, instead of encountering the beauty and sophistication (and yes, the laughter and humor) in our language, begin learning the worst, not the best uses of words.
Your children and grandchildren should be encountering the best of our language at an early age. This means exposure to people who speak well and use an extensive vocabulary. You need to be certain that they are taught reading through a method that emphasizes phonics so that they are comfortable reading challenging and stimulating books.
You need to determine that they are learning to write real words and real sentences and reject any implications that the rules of grammar are outdated and unnecessary. Unfortunately, schools that should be responsible for such determinations are often part of the problem rather the solution. So you need to make considerable effort yourself to be certain that your children will grow up with the delight of language.
We often hear about the alleged importance of degrees and paper credentials. But the way a new high school or college graduate reads, writes, and especially speaks may have far more impact on his or her future than a piece of paper which implies the a graduate has truly been educated.
Fortunately, despite the trash talk of figures from the entertainment and sports worlds, today’s technology offers a plethora of opportunities to experience the delight of language. Can your children say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?” If they can’t, they should be able to do so. If they can, it should only be the beginning, not the end, of their pleasure and surprise in exploring the delight of language.
What can you do immediately to insure the future of your family through the exploration of language? You’ll find resources here!