Marmay tay

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Just got off the phone with my 2nd-grader granddaughter, Samira.  She was in her dad's truck out on some errand with him.  She had a new cell phone and was excited to talk to me on it.

Her dad got out to pick up some things he had left behind at a store.  Thereupon Samira started to tell me about her grand plan to do housework for the neighbors so that she could save up enough money to buy a "marmay tay".

"What is a 'marmay tay', honey?" I asked

She tried to explain, but no matter what she said, I just couldn't grasp what a "marmay tay" was.

Finally, my son got back to the truck.

"Tom, what is this 'marmay tay' that Samira wants to buy?"

"Oh," he laughed, "she wants to get a mermaid tail."


  1. Dick Margulis said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 11:11 am

    I think it's time you apprised her of the CITES list of endangered species. You wouldn't want her arrested by the US Fish and Wildlife Service before her eighth birthday, after all.

  2. julie lee said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 12:39 pm

    It's often the case when we think a baby or toddler can't talk, their babble or gibberish is actually talk, understood only by the father or mother.

    I learned this many years ago with my two-year-old.
    Once day she said to me: "I want bear", pointing to the refrigerator.
    "Bear?" I said, "We don't have a bear." She tried again and again," Bear, bear, I want bear", pointing to the fridge and crying. I opened the fridge and she pointed inside, crying "Bear, bear." I scolded her, saying, "Speak properly and I'll give you what you want." To no avail.

    Later, I found that what she wanted was a Ding-Dong, one of those little separately wrapped chocolate cakes (for 25 cents then) covered with chocolate icing. By "bear" the child meant "bell', which for her stood for Ding-dong, probably from the Mother Goose nursery rhyme she had learned: "Ding-dong bell, Pussy's in the well, Who put her in? Little Tommy Green…."

    So with "bear" not only did my two-year-old talk, she was even quite witty.

  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 1:15 pm

    I very much appreciate julie lee's comment about her daughter saying "bear" (i.e., "bell") for "Ding-Dong". Children can be so creatively effective in their use of language.

    Once my wife and I were riding on a bus from Watertown, Massachusetts to Harvard Square. We were sitting right behind a man with a gleaming, bald pate. Thomas (the "Tom" of the o.p. above), who was two years old at the time, leaned forward and, pointing at the man with his cute little finger, exclaimed, "Jīdàn bóbo 鸡蛋伯伯" ("Uncle Egg"). I just thought that was so incredibly inventive.

    When I was teaching at Duke in 1995, Hitomi Endo, a very fine teacher of Japanese, tested my level in that language and gave me a much higher score than I thought I deserved on the oral part of the exam. When I asked her why she gave me such a high score, she said that I was skillful in what she called "communicative competence". She said I was able to use my limited vocabulary and grammar to convey all sorts of information and ideas, some quite complex.

    Little children start doing that from the time they can only say a few words and have minimal grammar.

  4. J Rivera said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 3:56 pm

    Must chime in one the topic of children's creative use of a limited vocabulary. Decades ago, a relative took my then-two-year-old to see the New Year's Parade in Philly. When they got back, I asked my toddler what he saw there. "See vizzavoz!" Huh? I asked him some questions to try to decode this. No luck. "See vizzavoz! Vizzavoz!" Frustrated, he scooted to the kitchen. I heard him rummaging through the plastic basket I kept on the floor to hold kitchen items I didn't have cabinet space for. Then he came back, holding a metal funnel on top of his head. "VIZZAVOZ!" he yelled. Ah ha: the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz.

  5. Laura Morland said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 1:57 am

    Wow, three tales of creative and inventive little children! The funnel-hat story is one I'll never forget. What has become of these former two-year-olds?

  6. Laura Morland said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 2:04 am

    Victor, is Samira's first language a Chinese one? Because I've noticed it's common with Chinese immigrant students to omit final consonants. A native English-speaking child would normally have clearer articulation by the age of seven.

  7. Adam Roberts said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 4:17 am

    My nephew used to think the Supreme Being was called "Peter God", because of the priest's habit of ending his sermon with "thanks be to God".

  8. Jichang Lulu said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 6:14 am

    Before reaching the end of the post, I thought it had to be 'Marmite' (plus an unknown suffix or particle -ay).

  9. Bev Rowe said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 7:48 am

    This thread could run for years!

    I took my toddler daughter to London's Natural History Museum. (For those who don't know it I should explain that it's a huge Gothic building full of stuffed animals.) Arriving home she excitedly told her mother "We went to a zoo in a church".

  10. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 8:14 am

    "New Year's Parade in Philly" — the Mummers Parade! Be prepared to see anything there, including the Vizzavoz.

    Images here.

    Videos here.

    The mummers make me proud to be an immigrant to Philadelphia. Zaniest show on earth.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 3:23 pm

    @Jichang Lulu

    I don't think Marmite is available in American grocery stores. Otherwise, you made a good guess.

  12. Lisa said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 4:18 pm

    Marmite is definitely available, though at about 5 times the price as in the Commonwealth. It would be something to save up for, but probably nothing an American grade-schooler wants.

  13. gidklio said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 8:39 am

    My sister, age, two or so, threw a fit sitting in her high chair at the table after eating. She wanted a luffcuff, quite badly. Unfortunately, we had no clue.

    After about fifteen minutes of where's waldo with an unknown waldo, touching every object in sight, we finally figured it out, gave it to her so she could clean herself off, and she stopped crying right away.

    She wanted the washcloth.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    September 5, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

    @Laura Morland

    Samira was born in Dallas, where she still lives. Her mom is from South Texas, not too far from Houston. Her dad, born in Taiwan, spoke Mandarin almost exclusively for the first six years of his life, then learned English in Boston for about four years, then lived in the Philadelphia area (mostly western suburbs) till about the age of twenty-two, after which he wandered many places across the earth. He has a genius for mimicking all languages.

    I would say that Samira has developed her own idiosyncratic way of talking, because it is not the nature of her parents to "correct" her. For example, her "work" sounds to me like her "walk", or actually more like "wok".

  15. mg said,

    September 6, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

    Re: Victor's story of scoring high on his Japanese exam, when I visited France I had people call me "poetic" due to the way I used circumlocutions to increase my "communicative competence". Only time before or since that I've ever been called that!

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