My roommates and I went bowling last week. We’re naturally mistrustful of humanity, so instead of posting our real names on the monitor, we used arbitrarily chosen animal names.
Our initial species assignments were based on the joy of pronouncing them, kind of like ordering spumoni and okra just for an excuse to say it. During our second game, though, we realized that our names were eerily appropriate.
The most outgoing of us identified with the marmoset, an active and social little monkey. The shyest roommate is not unlike a hedgehog, prone to curling up in a ball when confronted. Meanwhile, I was the wombat, an animal that responds to threats by crushing predators’ skulls with its toughened rear end.
I learned the word “wombat” at age four or five and promptly startled my parents by announcing the presence of one in our suburban Oregon backyard.
The wombat in question turned out to be a zucchini the size of a schnauzer. My developing brain had decided on its own that “wombat” meant “something especially large for its type.”
A few of my friends report similar struggles with early language learning:
So what I’m really trying to say here is this: Parents, when your second-grader teaches your four-year-old a joke with the punchline “I’m going as fast as I can!,” she does not know that the names are all Bad Words. It’s not her fault. Blame it on that wombat in art class.