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Friday, February 1, 2008

The Wonderful World of Tumb

Daughter and I had one of those "Who's On First?" conversations yesterday morning. It went like this:

She: [holding up her thumb] Finn-er
Me: That's your thumb, honey. Thumb.
She: sticks out her tongue, with a satisfied look in her eyes
Me: That's your tongue.
She: Tumb.
Me: Yes, tongue. This is your thumb [holding up my own]...
She: helpfully holds up her thumb
Me: Good! Thumb.
She: Tumb. [carefully pronouncing the silent 'b' -- how did she know there was a 'b' on the end of that word?? I have no idea.]
Me: Yes, thumb. Show me your thumb.
She: delighted, sticks out her tongue
Me: No, honey. That's your tongue.
She: Tumb. [again with the not-so-silent 'b']
Me: This is your thumb [touching hers with my own]; this is your tongue [touching her helpfully outstretched tongue with my finger]. Thumb. [touch] Tongue. [touch] Thumb. [touch] Tongue. [touch] Thumb. [touch] Tongue. [touch]
She: Tumb [strongly voiced 'b'], holding up her thumb and sticking out her tongue.
Me: OK. Show me your thumb.
She: [hesitantly] sticks out her tongue.
Me: That's tongue. [touching her thumb] What's this?
She: [in triumph] Finn-er!!

From this little exercise, I have learned that the more you type the words thumb and tongue, the more you wonder whether you've spelled them correctly. Also that the more you try to enunciate them for a toddler, the more you realize that it is completely impossible to show anyone else with your mouth how these words are different because the difference is not largely on your lips. And it makes me think: how different are they? When you're almost two, they are equally useful for poking your brother; they convey food equally well; they get equal air-time explore the textures of new objects. Indeed, they are both tumb.

And while I'm not supremely articulate on the profundity of all of this, I know a poem that is. So, if you have a few minutes, go read this absolutely gorgeous poem about the slipperiness of language, the power of near-homophones, and the reasons one might really not always want to distinguish between thumb and tongue. (It's a relatively new poem, so I feel weird challenging his copyright by posting the whole thing here.) Li-Young Lee's poem "Persimmons" is powerful and beautiful and moving and totally worth another click. I promise. And then come back and tell me what you think.



MIQuilter said...

I loved that poem! And I agree with Daughter - Tumb.

Fawn said...

Thank you for sharing! I love the tumb story - adorable. And the poem... it is indescribably beautiful. Wow.

MultiplesMommy said...

Ah, brings back memories of doo-wa-wa! BTW, I loved the poem. How DO you find these little gems? If I had the time, I'd reflecticate on his words...as it is, I simply appreciate the beauty of them.

MommyTime said...

So glad you are all loving this poem. And MM, I find these things because that's what I do for a living...teach literature. So I'm always reading anthologies. And finding great stuff. And making other people read it. Just for fun. :)

foolery said...

That was a GREAT toddler dialog!

I had a hard time with MAGICIAN and MUSICIAN when I was little. Now it's just TAX and FEE.

Beautiful poem -- thank you. Even though I hate persimmons.

MommyTime said...

Foolery, ha ha ha. Glad you liked the poem even though you hate persimmons. My husband grew up very close to where you live now, and he hates them too. Funny.

Huckdoll said...

Tumb! That is so darling. I don't even know if my girls know tumb yet. I will have to find out after their naps!

MommyTime said...

Ha ha Huckdoll. I love that you are actually going to ask them. :) That's so sweet. I hope they surprised you with something funny!

MommyTime said...

Ha ha Huckdoll. I love that you are actually going to ask them. :) That's so sweet. I hope they surprised you with something funny!


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