Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kids: communication, learning, imagination

I asked my seven-year-old how it looked, when she was staring at a pencil pine.

"Confused", she said.

"Untidy? Like it needed its hair brushed?"


I think her metaphor was the best.

I often find myself explaining to the kids the meaning of an English expression (eg "put a sock in it" which has no literal meaning). We do it all the time, using common expressions as shorthand to convey meaning. But they are not literal, not obvious, and have to be learnt. In this way, as we get older we become more adept at communicating, via such coded phrases.

The standard codebook of expressions (with regional variations) is very useful. But this is at the expense of imaginative thought, and imaginative expression. My daughter's description needed verification to ensure understanding. But at least it wasn't cliche, which is what most of the codebook becomes.

Perhaps this is an inevitable part of the processes of maturing. We learn to communicate more clearly with the aid of a common lexicon, but this is at the expense of imagination, in thought and in expression. And we end up talking in cliches, perhaps also thinking in cliches.

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