My boy is a man of few words. If you’ve met him, you’ve likely heard him say one in particular. That word is ‘deeto’ and it means a lot to him, which is handy because it means a lot of things as well. Deeto is his go-to exclamation for, ‘Look at this thing,’ ‘Here it is,’ ‘Hello’, ‘I am excited’ and, occasionally, ‘Let’s break this.’ Deeto has a range of inflections and tones from which we can discern whether he is offering a happy deeto, a questioning deeto or the remorseful deeto of someone who’s just deetoed something they didn’t ought to deeto.
This is just the latest turn along his linguistic odyssey. He still prefers squealing to talking, and is also obsessed with saying a chirpy little hello and goodbye to all people, places, and objects that he sees. He has decided that all flying insects are bees, and so any fly’s arrival in our home is met with a cheery, ‘Hiya beeeee!’ followed by, ‘Bye bye beeeee’ whenever it leaves his field of vision. This is, of course, adorable but since he observes this achingly polite protocol with perfect stringency, he is often trapped in a never-ending loop of insect etiquette, saying hi and goodbye to the same fly for entire afternoons. It’s such a good way of keeping him occupied that we’ve considered leaving out plates of fly-gathering filth, just in case we ever need a babysitter at short notice.
But it’s the ‘deeto’ thing that mystifies. In an inverse of that myth about Eskimos having 200 words for snow, my son is attempting to craft a single, perfect word that holds 200 meanings. There’s a neatness to using two syllables to describe his universe, like he’s a tiny, ginger Hodor. Another part of me wonders if there’s something we ought to be doing to speed things along.
Last week, his friend Manu (eight weeks his senior) told me he’d had a dream about an elephant. If you were to ask my son what his dreams were about, he’d say deeto eight times and run out of the room screaming. You’re not supposed to compare your child to others but who else are you supposed to compare them to?
He learns other words but they come and go. His brain only holds recent words in place so, like iPhone designs or Love Island contestants, any new addition pushes his previous favourites into the hazy past and they escape his vocabulary entirely. We were delighted when he learned ‘up’ and ‘down’ a few weeks back, and then realised he’d stopped saying his own name. He hasn’t said it since. Whatever else you could say about Hodor, even he can manage that.
For the time being, we keep talking to him, in the hope that deeto is replaced by real words, or phased out entirely. It’s either that or we try to speak his language, slowly retreating from everyday speech to a world where only one glorious word remains. It would make writing columns a lot easier. Perhaps the boy’s a genius after all.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats