What Is This Word?

Child with a Dove, Pablo Picasso, 1901

Child with a Dove, Pablo Picasso, 1901

I try to do at least one New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle per week.  After Richard died, his mother left a half-complete collection of NYT puzzles at our house.  I asked her if she wanted me to mail it to her and she said, “No.  I did so many in the hospital these last few months that I don’t think I ever want to do one again.”  So I picked up her book and finished it.  Then I bought another one and another one.  There are 200 in each collection–now that I have kids, one book can last me over three years!  But anywho…one of the clues this week for a three-letter verb reminded me of a sweet story from when Vivi was little and G and I were still in the throes of parenting an infant.

I make fun of G’s Brasilian accent now and again, but the man has an exceptional command of the English language.  Shoot, he even helps me with those crossword puzzles–usually for things like isotopes, names of stars, or atomic numbers.  Still, every so often, he bumps into a word he’s just never needed to know until that moment.

Like the time we took Vivi to the pediatrician when she was about six months old.  Vivi had a lot of ear infections, so we were talking to the doctor about whether they might impair her hearing and speech development.  The doctor said, “Does she make normal baby sounds?  Is she cooing?”  I assured him that she was and the doctor told me it was nothing to worry about.  He told us that we could get Vivi dressed again and left the room.  G put his hand on my arm and leaned in close.  “What is this word ‘coo?'”

It’s a delicate whisper of a word–coo.  Not something he would have run across in a chemistry lab, or a research paper, or a citizenship exam, or a patent application.  Not a word you hear at the grocery store, the gas station, the tax office, the cafeteria, the television.  It’s such a precise word.  You might know it if you have been close to birds or babies, but not otherwise.

I explained, “Oh, you know the sound doves make.  No?  It’s those little happy sounds she makes, like she’s trying to talk to us, like a cat purring.”  He smiled and cupped her tiny head in his calloused hand.  He leaned close to her and said, “Do you coo, gatinho do papai?”  I watched him as he tucked that word into his mind, on the English side, across from “arrulho.”  A sweet word that only came his way because he’s a Daddy.  

Is there a special word you associate with a moment in your life?  What’s a word you remember learning?

19 thoughts on “What Is This Word?

  1. Chris Antenen

    I was one of those spellers who knew everything and always earned 100 on my spelling papers, and was probably obnoxious about it as only a 10-11 year old know-it-all girl can be. That sense of spelling perfection was shattered as an adult when spellcheck kept picking on me. Evidently I have no idea when to use ence or ance or ible or able or, you know, THOSE. I used the word entitled when I meant titled. So I’m a much chagrined word lover. Now I’m going to look up chagrined before I send this. Given my state as that ten-year-old perfectionist, I was shocked when I learned to spell pneumonia. It didn’t fit my rules of spelling, so that’s the one I REMEMBER learning.
    I was touched by your description of the meaning of ‘coo.’ Isn’t that a wonderful word. Don’t the English (not the gentry) use the word ‘coo, ‘ by itself as a comment denoting doubt or caution. I even like that meaning. I remember learning obfuscate and the correct pronunciation of formidable. Oh, hell, I just love words and ‘coo’ is one of the finest — onomatopoeia?
    Great post!

    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Oh, my mother made sure we knew how to pronounce ‘formidable!’ I loved learning that facetious is the only word in English with all the vowels, in order. Our 10 yr old selves would have been best friends!

  2. G

    Oh, such a sweet memory. I was luck enough to be there, with you and Grandma Janice when Vivi made the “real cooing” sound, right after bath time and had 3 (not one, not two, but 3!!) adults tending to her after-bath needs. To date, I have not ever heard more beautiful sound. Not an opera singer with her range, not a bird of paradise, not the ocean or a conch ever even got close. We may borrow the name from the sound doves make, but the sound is more like that of an owl; a magical one, that is. It is up there in ranking as when one of the three kids says “Daddy”.

    For me, and perhaps for all fathers – I don’t know for sure – falling in love with each of my children happened in a very vivid moment. I did feel very connected with each of them from the very moment they came into my life, but I fell “head over heals” in love a few weeks or months after that. While I remember the moment for all three, only for Vivi – for whichever reason – I remember the date: August 3, 2007. I had just changed her diaper and was going to put her down for a nap (she was already half asleep), and an overwhelming feeling, an intense emotion just took over me: I just could not put her down in her crib. I held her for a long time, very tight against my chest.

    Thanks for bringing up such sweet memories!

  3. mariner2mother

    When my son was a baby and I was very tired, one day I was trying to call him baby boy. What came out was bubba. In that moment, I knew where that word originated: from a loving mother who was referring to her son as baby boy, but it came out wrong.

      1. Chris Antenen

        That’s fun to contemplate. I was a loner out of geographical necessity, and a mom fearful to set me loose in that big bad world;
        I wanted a best friend. Even the Bobbsey Twins had each other.

        I just read a thing on semicolons. How did I do English major?

      2. Chris Antenen

        That makes bubba a better word for me. I think I knew those meanings, but the vision of bending over a crib, tired, grateful, happy, miserably tired — that’s where I’ll think of bubba now.

        For some reason that only they know, my son and daughter have forever called each other Bubba. They’re 42 and 48 now, but it’s still Bubba and a hug when they see each other..

  4. Pingback: Sunday Sweetness–G Learns a New Word | Baddest Mother Ever

Want to Leave a Comment? Please Do!