Language Lessons

Language came late to Colby. Nonverbal until the age of 8, 18-year-old Colby still struggles to transition the contents of his mind to his mouth. Syntax is slippery; tenses, tricky; pronouns, preposterous.

However, Colby has laser-sharp clarity about his word preferences. For unknown reasons, he has certain words he adores and others he abhors – and he is on a one-man mission to persuade the rest of us to join him in the “correct” vocabulary selections.

For example, Colby does not like the word “good,” strongly believing that “great” is the better choice. He is on constant vigil to correct everyone around him. Anyone greeting Colby with “Good morning!” receives a firm “GREAT morning!” in return. A congratulatory “good job!” is quickly countered with “GREAT job!” If someone across a crowded room remarks “Good to see you” to a friend, Colby jumps in with “GREAT to see you.”

Another of Colby’s targets is “try.” Whenever I say, “Yes, we’ll try to do that,” he admonishes me with a Yoda-like 

“We’ll try to go to Disney World.” “NO TRY!”
“We’ll try to find those cookies at the store.” “NO TRY!”
Colby has never seen a Star Wars movie … but the force must be with him as he truly embodies Yoda’s counsel on a daily basis: “Do or do not – there is no try!”

Colby is also working to rid the world of “or” and replace it with “and.”
“Would you like to go ride around the block or go to the store?” “AND!”
“Do you want lasagna or spaghetti?” “AND!”
He does not limit this correction to choices in which he wants both options. He slips it in whenever “or” is used, particularly as he pulls information from his beloved Wikipedia.
As he points to the words, I obediently read, “Bears are classified as caniforms, or doglike carnivorans …”
“The rainbow effect is also commonly seen near waterfalls or fountains.”
When he reads aloud himself, he translates every “or” as “and” without missing a beat.

I have to admit that, under Colby’s round-the-clock tutelage, I have come to realize that “or” truly can be replaced with “and” most of the time. Those two separate Venn diagram circles can often be seen as “A and B” as easily as “A or B.” The perspective is one of expanded possibilities rather than limited ones.

Colby’s responses are remarkable in their velocity, consistency, and persistency. And his conditioning has been so effective that I now hear his voice in my head.

Which is, perhaps, the point. Maybe Colby is working to make some changes in the way I connect my thoughts and words.

“GREAT,” not “good”; DO, not “try”; “AND,” not “or.”

Colby’s lessons are certainly ones I need:

  • aim for the best rather than settling;
  • give enough effort to make things happen rather than simply voice a half-hearted attempt;
  • see the world with all-encompassing, inclusive eyes rather than through a narrow, exclusive lens.

Good lessons for me to absorb.
I mean, GREAT!

I do need to consider my word choices more carefully or at least think about how words impact my view of the world.
I mean, AND!

Ok, Colby, I’ll try.
DRAT! I have a long way to go!