The things that we rationalize as children…

8 minute read

November 22, 2020, 10:39 PM

Sometimes it’s fun to think back about what mental connections you made in younger years that you probably should not have, i.e. rationalizing things based on incomplete or wrong information.  I want to say that I’ve always filled in gaps and such myself, and when I eventually learn the truth, it always makes me laugh to think about what I had once believed.

Right offhand, I remember how I used to think that “gross” was spelled when I was a child.  Now mind you, I had never seen the word written down before, but I had heard my mother use the term plenty of times.  I like to think that I had a fairly decent grasp on the English language even as a child, so I took a good guess.  In my mind, I thought it was spelled “groce”, which to me makes a lot of sense.  After all, “grocery” has that spelling, and is pronounced the same way.  And words that end in -oss are typically have an “aw” sound for that vowel than a long “o” sound, like boss, cross, gauss, and moss.  “Gross” doesn’t fit.  I remember when I saw the word in print for the first time, and was informed that it was “gross”, I remember thinking, oh, that’s how it’s spelled?  Weird.  “Groce” still seems more logical for me, but clearly, I’m not going to win this one.  I do tend to say, “G-R-O-C-E gross,” as in spelling it out the way I think it should be spelled and then saying the word, when the situation merits it.  You may recall in a Journal entry about soda from 2017 that I used this phrase.  That’s where it comes from.

Then there’s the opposite situation, where there were words that I had seen in writing but had never heard pronounced.  I remember reading about bones in Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia, Volume 1, which a children’s book all about the body.  It was a good book, and I learned a lot from it.  About bones, they said that while the outside of our bones are hard, the insides are “soft and spongy”.  I had never made the connection between this word and a sponge before, and so I assumed that it was pronounced in a similar way to bong or thong.  I also assumed based on context that “spongy” was something related to softness, and so I was able to work around the unknown word well enough and keep it moving.  When Mom eventually set me straight on the word, it suddenly made the passage in the book make a lot more sense, but I admit that I missed my original pronunciation.

Another thing that my mind linked together was associating a bald person, as in someone who has no hair on their head, with a ball.  I suppose that it made enough sense at the time.  Heads are round for the most part, and balls are also round (unless it’s a football).  Therefore, the head of a person with no hair would look like a ball, right?  Thus “balled” because they have no hair on their head, and thus their head looks like a ball.  Gotta love three-year-old logic, right?  I suppose that my head now looks like a ball, considering that much of my hair went away long ago.

Then there are those times when you mishear things, rationalize what you thought you heard, and then run with it.  I have written before about the song “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and how, based on my understanding of it, she would be driving six wide horses when she came.  Not six white horses, but six wide horses.  I rationalized it at the time by assuming that six wide horses were more comfortable to drive than six narrow horses.  Hey, I was only five years old.  Then there was a Disney song about the Winnie the Pooh characters that started with “Where, oh, where is Eeyore’s tail?” (that I am having trouble finding now, or else I’d share it with you).  One of the lines talking about where Eeyore’s tail belongs goes, “Not his neck, not his ears, nor his knees or nose.  Don’t put a tail just any place.  Put it where it goes!”  For some reason, I really misheard those lyrics, and what I misheard made me a little bit mad.  I misheard it as, “Not his neck, not his ears, nor his knees or nose.  Don’t put it there, just Danny plays.  Put it where it goes!”  In other words, the song is telling me that I’m not allowed to participate, and that only this random kid named Danny was allowed to put Eeyore’s tail back on his butt.  The song was telling me to get the hell away so that Danny could take care of it.  Of course, when I finally figured out the right lyrics, it all made much more sense, i.e. that there was no Danny, and they were speaking in more general terms.

Of course, you could forgive that when the person assuming things is a small child.  What about when they’re older?  As a teen growing up in Virginia, Mom, Sis, and I were in Charlottesville one day going past the Lowe’s.  Behind the building, the ground slopes down, and it’s landscaped with several brick retaining walls to create a tiered appearance.  Mom described it as a “terraced effect”.  I heard “terrorist effect” and my mind ran with it.  Presumably, the tiered wall was more fun to blow up than a single straight wall?  Who knows.  Mom quickly set me straight about it, and we got a laugh out of it, but my mind still took something and ran with it.

Speaking of my mother, when I was growing up, she liked to use big words around me.  For instance, the restroom was the “lavatory”.  I’ve commented before that there are exactly two types of people who use the word lavatory on a regular basis: people in the airline industry, and my mother.  That said, we had this little plastic E.T. figurine where he was holding a pot of geraniums.  I didn’t know much about different types of flowers.  I asked Mom what he was holding, and she said, “That’s a geranium.”  I didn’t know that “geranium” was a specific type of flower, and that it related to the movie, because I had never seen the movie at that point.  Knowing Mom’s penchant for using big words around me, I assumed that “geranium” was a fancy term for a potted flower.  It was a number of years before I figured out that a geranium was a specific type of flower.  Until then, I just assumed that the geranium was the full package, i.e. the pot with any kind of flower in it.

While we’re still talking about my mother, one of her terms was to refer to flatulence, i.e. which most people call a fart, as a “popper”.  Mom made some good-natured sport of my farts as a child, calling me the “popper king”, even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and thought that all of this farting was something wrong with me, but that’s besides the point.  “Popper” was the term that I knew for that function, and I learned the term “fart” much later.  It is also worth noting that I have always liked humor relating to farts and other bodily functions.  Now, come second grade, our teacher was going to read Mr. Popper’s Penguins to us.  I was excited, because I knew what a popper was, and, first of all, I was amused that the title character was named for that bodily function.  With that in mind, I also wondered how much fart humor would be in the book (hey, a guy could hope).  I admit that while it was a good story, I was more than a bit disappointed that flatulence didn’t factor into the equation one bit, and that this man did not, in fact, have gas.

I also have a “hail corporate” moment for you when it comes to assumptions about terms.  When my sister was a baby, my parents used Pampers diapers for her.  Then I heard the term “pampered”.  Now, the only context that I knew of a word that sounded like that was the diapers.  So I assumed that to be pampered meant that you were wearing Pampers® brand diapers.  I posted about this on Facebook a few years ago, and a friend from middle school remarked, “The pampered chef takes on a whole new meaning!”  Yes, it certainly does.

Then there was ice cream.  For some reason, I got it in my head that ice cream used fancy terms for simple things.  “Vanilla” was ice cream speak for plain ice cream.  And “pistachio” was fancy ice cream terminology for green ice cream.  I believed this for a very long time, and thus, when I was using these terms, I thought I was choosing the color of my ice cream rather than a specific flavor.  Strawberry and chocolate, meanwhile, I understood the way I was supposed to, though chocolate was generally banned in our house for a long time because Mom claimed it made me hyper.  But it was a long time before I realized that vanilla didn’t mean plain ice cream and was actually a legitimate flavor in its own right, and it wasn’t until I first ate pistachio nuts that I learned that pistachio was related to that, and wasn’t a fancy ice cream term for “green”.

I also made a very innocent connection when it came to world events.  Recall that I was a small child in the 1980s.  Back then, we had the “war on drugs” and the Cold War.  I had heard of the “drug war” first, which I had pretty well nailed down because of much indoctrination in school about how drugs were bad and would lead you to a bad place if you ever tried them, and that you should “just say no” if you are ever offered some.  Then when I heard the term “Cold War”, I immediately thought back to the drug war and how it must be another effort to combat something that affects our society.  I knew that I never liked catching a cold, so the Cold War must be a fight against cold germs… right?  It was a while before I was disabused of that notion.  I still think that assumption makes enough sense, even if it ultimately turned out to be mistaken.

When it came to music as a child, I had a lot to learn.  I didn’t know that heavy metal was a specific kind of music.  I thought that “heavy metal” just meant “really, really loud”, and that any really loud music was heavy metal, even if it wasn’t that style at all.  I now know better, and while metal isn’t my favorite kind of music, I at least know what it is, and that playing, say, classical music at 100 decibels does not make it heavy metal.

And if you think that I outgrew this, no.  For this last one, I guess you can say that I lived a very sheltered existence.  I knew what a blow dryer was, i.e. the thing that blew out hot air to dry your hair after a shower.  I had this pretty well nailed down.  Then I first heard the term “blowjob” at some point, probably in my freshman year of high school.  I didn’t know that a blowjob was what it actually is (look it up if you don’t know), and just assumed that a blowjob was getting your hair dried with a blow dryer.  It made perfect sense to me.  So imagine this scenario of how I got disabused of this little bit of innocence.  My mother, sister, and I had all just finished getting our hair cut.  We didn’t get our hair dried with the dryer because the place upcharged for that, and Mom didn’t want to pay the extra amount.  I was telling them afterward about making my hair look good while getting ready before some event that I had coming up.  For that, I said that in order to look my best, I just needed shampoo, conditioner, and then a blowjob.  All of these women suddenly started laughing loudly in this I-can’t-believe-he-said-that sort of way.  I was mortified, because that was not the reaction that I was expecting, and it seemed awfully out-sized when I was talking about using a hair dryer on my own hair.  I mean, after all, the hairstylists gave blowjobs all the time with their blow dryers as part of the normal course of their work, didn’t they?  Why was my talking about it so scandalous?  I was worried that I had said something wrong.  Mom remarked to me, “You meant blow dry, I believe.”  What a way to find out that a blowjob was not actually drying your hair with a hot air machine.  No one told me what it actually meant that day (I would learn that much later), but it was made quite clear by their reactions that the term did not mean what I had thought that it meant.  How embarrassing, but, hey, at least I learned something from it.

So all in all, I thought that you might enjoy this recounting of these little misconceptions from younger years.  They still make me laugh now that I’m older and wiser, some more than others.

Categories: Childhood