We are in the minivan (why is flair always happening in my minivan?) and my daughters are laughing hysterically about babies and their first words. My youngest said “dog” first, and my oldest said “duck,” so they are trying to psychoanalyze what this must mean about them. I tell them my friend’s first word was “daffodil” and that’s why she’s a writer.
Then the oldest asks: “What’s a really long word that would be so weird to have as a first word?”
Out of the blue, I blurt out “incomprehensible.”
They are stunned by this 6 syllable word. My daughter says, “I do not understand that word.”
“That’s what it means!” I say. “It means it’s something not understood.”
They are shocked. The feel that sublime moment where their experience of a word is what the word means.
My children are fascinated with how people come into language. They want to know more. I’m thinking of Helen Keller’s encounter with the water and her ability to grasp “wet” by having water poured over her hands.
I talk more about what “incomprehensible” means. I say stuff like:
“It’s like when you talk so fast and I can’t understand you. It’s incomprehensible.”
“Not to me,” she says.
“Or when someone is speaking Chinese. It’s incomprehensible.”
“Not to them.”
I think about this. Incomprehensible isn’t really a great word after all. Just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not understandable to somebody else somewhere. I suppose living with flair means I don’t settle for saying something is incomprehensible. If I get another perspective, I just might find the meaning.
“Yeah, Mom. You have to be careful when you explain words to us.”
I really do.
That reminds me of a Pearls before Swine comic I just love:
Pig: What does nebulous mean?
Rat: It's really unclear?
Pig: Then why use the word?
Maybe it's just that I love word jokes!