Colorless green ideas are sleeping furiously

Kiddo#4 has made a discovery: you can use language to say stupid things.

More to the point, language can create things that don’t exist. And this he finds hilariously funny.

It happened for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  Kiddo#3 was joking around with me, and he suggested that he could nurse.  (Note: I may be one of those weird breastfeeding nazis, but Kiddo#3 is six years old and weaned a VERY long time ago. I’d be surprised if he remembered ever doing it.)  I said to him, “No! Kiddo#3, you are too big for ‘good milk.'”

As soon as I said that, Kiddo#4 burst out laughing.

Good Milk is our code word for nursing, since I realized very quickly that I didn’t want a child yelling in the middle of the grocery store using anatomically correct terms. (And before you ask, the stuff we get out of the fridge is milk-in-a-cup, not Bad Milk.) And he’d suddenly created in his head the image of his older brother having Good Milk, which of course couldn’t possibly happen.

So I said, “Kiddo#2 is too big for good milk,” and again the kid went into fits of giggles.

We followed this up by naming every person in the house, including the cats, and he couldn’t get enough of this. Since then, he’s begun combining terms that simply do not go together.  “No hug fan.” “Bad door.”

He’s learned — and like a little scientist he’s testing his theory — that you can create things that do not exist using language. There are no purple foxes in the house, but he can say the words and the idea exists, even if it didn’t before. You can make up a totally anomalous phrase, and the absurdity is, it can’t exist, and yet for a moment in his head, it does.


  1. Ivy

    Wait until he realizes that new things must exist in language before they can exist in reality.
    “Hey, why don’t we make a portable device that picks up over-the-air television via rabbit ears, so the user can watch their shows anywhere, anytime? Call it a Recording Rabbit.”
    Whether or not it has a name at the outset, it can only be built after it’s defined.

    1. philangelus

      Not entirely true, because he enjoyed good milk long before he had a name for it. 🙂

      But yes, for things that don’t already exist, first you need to fabricate the concept (leaving aside those things you discover by accident: hey, I wonder what happens if you do this — OH WOW!)

  2. Pat

    You have a Chomskyling! Good for him. Just don’t encourage him to write, in the words of my linguistics professor, “150 pages of incredibly dense prose.”

    1. philangelus

      I was wondering if anyone would get the reference.:-)