Words Bigger Than I

January 27, 2009

At a young age, my dad started teaching me big, sophisticated words. I repeated them with my clumsy, lippy pronunciation whenever possible, to show that I was one of the smartest first graders around. I looked forward to times when I could use them and I planned scenarios in my head, laying out context and delivery. At fancy dinner parties where I was taken with my parents, I tried to fit them into conversations, and the adults would laugh at me from where they stood, high above my head, not taking my advanced vocabulary as something serious. In my half-developed mind, my advanced vocabulary was the most serious, in truth, it was all I thought about. Didn't they understand just how smart I sounded? I was a first grader saying words I couldn't even dream of spelling. If they heard my friends talk, they would surely appreciate my mature terminology. When I was at school, in my first grade class with its vomit grey-blue carpet and tables lined with rubber, I had to endure my friend's amateur speech that included words like 'haded' and 'stuffs'. This was very, very difficult for me. I turned away with disgust when they tried to engage me in this type of conversation, and I thought myself generally better than the majority of them. When I first adopted the complex language, I tried searching for places where I could wheedle in some of those glorious words, to show my classmates that I truly was better than they were. I quickly gave up when I realized with sadness that most conversations that I was involved in at school were about how sharing was equivalent to caring and why it was wrong to hit each other over the head with wooden building blocks.

I went into a state of early life depression. It seemed to me that I would have to wait years, if not decades before being able to use this intricate tongue. My parent's friends laughed at me, and my own friends couldn't care less about my grown-up lingo, much less give me a chance to use it. I sulked through my classes never using words longer than 'question' and 'homework'. I was truly at a loss, the only time I got to use this language anymore was after dinner when I would sit on my dad's knee and he would teach me more and more of these beautiful words. Maybe he was to blame for my suffering; after all, it was he who had taught me these words. They say that ignorance is bliss, and I wonder if without these words I would have been able to skip the episode in my young life where I thought the world was filled only with babbling babies and adults speaking in high frequencies, as if we couldn't understand when they spoke in a regular tone. On the other hand, without the words I wouldn't be able to identify a sound as mellifluous, a dress as ostentatious, or a remark as facetious. These were simple pleasures of my every day life, and even if I couldn't voice the words, I could summon them from the corners of my mind for my own use.

One day, my class was sitting in a circle around my teacher, Ms. McDonald, when a long awaited opportunity slipped into my hands. She was sitting on a chair too small for her moderately sized bottom, and wearing grey slacks and a pale pink blouse. She had both hands palms down on her knees. She was calm and collected, which was the only way I had ever seen her.
'We're going to start having vocabulary quizzes regularly, you will be given a list of words to study and memorize a few days in advance and then we will read you sentences using the word. You'll have to write down the word on a slip of paper and we'll grade you with a fraction of how many you got right over how many were on the quiz'
A girl with pigtails and a blue dress shyly raised her hand. When the teacher didn't call on her within a minute, her eyebrows and little mouth squinted together, pulled with a drawstring of frustration. She raised her other hand as well, flailing them in the air like the tentacles on a pissed off octopus. I was already thinking of how I would collect ten out of ten after ten out of ten, because we would be spelling words like 'seal' or at the most 'refrigerator'. Maybe the teacher would even call me out on it, and tell the rest of the class that they should be more like me. Maybe she would frame my quizzes and put them up around our room, maybe she would give me a trophy at the end of the year as a blessing as I stepped forth into the second grade, a whole new territory of words and vocabulary.
Ms. McDonald finally called on the girl in the blue dress.
'Yes, what is it?' she asked her
The girl smiled shyly and sat back on her knees, 'what words are we gonna spelled?' she asked, one finger in her mouth.
Ms McDonald thought for a moment and then replied, 'They'll be words that relate to what we're studying.' She said.
It was as if a light switched on in my head, and I bolted straight, my hand shooting through the air like an arrow.
'pick me, pick me, pick me'' I muttered under my breath.
She called on me. This was my moment. I basked in a rich pool of knowledge. I could almost visualize the halo that was wrapped around my little head, emitting light.
'will we be studying'monkeys?' I asked, smugly.
Ms. McDonald looked a little baffled 'no'I don't believe so'' she said, looking at me a little strangely.
'Well thank god.' I sighed theatrically, going so far as to put the back of my hand against my forehead as if I felt faint with relief.
'Why do you ask?' she said, still a bit confused
I paused for dramatic effect, looking around at my classmates. Their eyes were trained on me.
'I simply cannot spell anthropomorphous' I said each word slowly, drawing out the moment as long as I could. I sat back in my seat, pretending to pick at my nails while the rest of the students looked at each other, mystified.
'I--I'where did you learn that word?' she asked me, just by her voice I could tell she was utterly perplexed by my brilliance.
I looked up and blinked innocently. 'Oh, I don't know.' I said, shrugging, 'I must have picked it up somewhere.'

That day after school, the girl with the pigtails and the blue dress ran up to me, she still had a finger in her mouth,
'would you study with me so I could spell good on the quizzes?' she looked at me, hopeful but still shy.
'I'll think about it,' I said, pretending I got this question every day. Her smile fell a little. I walked away to my babysitter and out the doors of the lower school. After dinner I climbed onto my dads lap before he was even done eating.
'Hey, monkey' he said
'Teach me more words.' I answered, wasting no time. He smiled and thought for a moment.
'Well, the word vernacular means''
I was back to my happy self, and out of my deep, pre-adolescent depression, but best of all, I had developed a love of words that would last me through out my entire life.

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