It’s a Wonder You Can Walk: Why Me No Wuvvy Baby Talk

Do you talk to your kids wike dis?  “Come on, Poopie Pie, open yuh moufy-woufy ’cause da choo-choo’s dewivvering some yummies fwum Taterville!”?

If so, I have a confession to make:

I want to punch you in the face.

Or, to put it in terms you can understand, “Me wanna give big booboo to da poopyhead!”

OK, that was a little harsh.  Me not really wanna give you big booboo, although you are definitely a poopyhead.  What I really want to do is to explain to you calmly and rationally why you’re an enemy of the human race.  You’re Kim Jong Unbearable.  So sit down, grab your binky or your foofoo or whatever the hell you call it and listen up.  ‘Kay, Sweetums?

Baby talk is child abuse.  Worse, even, because it hurts everyone within earshot.  It demeans us as a species.  Every time you say “moo-cow” or “goo goo gaga“, you help the apes rise one more rung up the ladder to overtake us.

I’ve never used baby talk on my kids.  For starters, I don’t have time to learn a new language.  My kids never drank a “baba“.  They drank bottles.  And those bottles contained milk, not “moo juice“.

I was never “Da-da“, always “Daddy”.  It’s not that much harder to say, and it’s so much more satisfying to hear.  “Da-da” could mean anything.  “Dance-dance”, “dazzle-dazzle”, “Dag Hammarskjöld-Dag Hammarskjöld”.

I won’t even add that cutesy “y” to the end of animal names, like “doggy” or “piggy” or “ducky” or “froggy” — geez, it’s not even creative.  You may think those kinds of minor tweaks are sweet and harmless, but as far as I’m concerned, you might as well be teaching your kids Klingon.  Made-up words aren’t doing them any good, and they’re just going to have to unlearn them at some point if they want to function in society.  Snoop Dogg was in his 30s before he finally dropped the Doggy from his name.  It’s a hard habit to break.

“Oh, but it’s cute,” people will say.  “I wuv when wittle Jillsy-Willsy tells me she has a boo-boo that needs Mommy’s magic smoochies to make it awl bettuh.”  Well, between you and me, Jillsy-Willsy sounds like an idiot, and so do you.  Personally, I find my kids cute enough without them talking like mental patients.  Of course, I don’t know Jillsy-Willsy.  Maybe she can use the boost.

When Bennett was in the hospital, we had a nurse who used some of the most egregious baby talk I’ve ever heard.  Bennett had come to fear the nurses, because they were the ones sticking needles in his arm.  When this particular lady leaned over his bed, she assured him, “Don’t you worry, baby!  I just need to check your pulsy-wulsy.  You won’t get any hurties from me!”

I swear the kid looked at me like, “What’s wrong with her?”

Caution: This face could be a sign that you're losing them.

C’mon, lady.  How is my kid supposed to know what you mean when your entire vocabulary comes straight out of your ass?

People who think they need to talk down to kids are using the same logic tourists use when they go to a foreign country and believe they can break through the language barrier simply by raising their voice.  “EXCUSE ME, MONSIEUR, BUT DONDE ESTA THE BATHROOM AT?!!!  BATHROOM?  FLUSHY-FLUSHY???”

As if baby talk isn’t confusing enough in itself, the perpetrators make their words even less intelligible by purposely mispronouncing them.  “Aw, what a sweet wittle guy!”  Wittle?  Do you think that’s charming?  We’ll see how charming it is when Caleb comes home with a broken nose because he told his buddies on the Wittle Weague team he had to make a tinky-tink in the potty.  Ever heard of speech therapy?  Kids spend years – YEARS! – trying to overcome impediments like the one you’re practically forcing down your child’s throat.

I know.  I’m wasting my time.  It’s not like I can expect this message to get through to the baby-talkers themselves.  I didn’t include nearly enough ooh-oohs and wah-wahs in this essay to hold their interest.

So let me speak instead to the poor, unfortunate children trapped in their care:

Hello, young person.

I’m sure your parents love you very much, so it’s a shame they insist on reinforcing the linguistic hurdles you’re struggling so hard to overcome.  They may mean well, but I’m going to tell you something you would probably realize on your own eventually:

Mama and Dada are just a tiny bit insane.

Yes, I know.  The truth hurts, but I’m not going to underestimate your intelligence the way they do.  You can handle it.

It’s not their fault, of course.  Their parents probably spoke baby talk to them when they were growing up.  Maybe it scarred them.  Maybe they thought it was the only way.  But don’t let them hurt you like that.

The cycle ends with you.

When your parents say something asinine, don’t try to figure them out, and please don’t parrot their jibber-jabber back to them.  Let them know you’re not going to lower yourself to that level for their amusement.  I know I can’t possibly teach you all the real words you should be learning right now, so instead, let me offer one all-purpose phrase you can whip out at need:

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Try it.  Say it over and over, whenever your parents talk to you like the baby they want you to remain rather than the well-adjusted grown-up society hopes you’ll become.  Eventually, they’ll get the message.  And hopefully, if they’re capable, they’ll start making some damn sense.

Good luck.  You have a long, hard road ahead of you, like all victims of baby talk.  But whatever you do, even when your parents are at their most insufferably incomprehensible, please resist the overwhelming urge you might have to punch them in the face.

That would be terribly immature.

73 comments on “It’s a Wonder You Can Walk: Why Me No Wuvvy Baby Talk

  1. AMEN BROTHER!

    Although … I realize, I do sometimes talk to my son in a slightly more soprano voice than I use with adults. But I use real words.

    Although … when my son was first learning to speak and called things by the sounds they made (woofs, beep-beeps) or by words he made up himself (uppa-I for bugs, updum for desserts), I used his words sometimes. It was, I admit, cute. (He now knows and uses the correct word for all these things).

    Maybe I deserve a small ouchie?

    • I’ve done that, too, honestly. One of Sutton’s first words was “pop”, which was what she called her pacifier. We still call them that sometimes (and we’re working on giving them up). At the risk of bending the rules and exposing myself as a hypocrite, I think it’s different if the kid comes up with it. No ouchies for you or me. :)

  2. I am with you! I never talk baby talk to my kids and my daughter is now three and says words like ‘frustrated’ ‘fascinating’, ‘observations’, ‘hypothesis’ and ‘hibernation’. She also knows a ton of words in French. Whenever someone started speaking baby talk to her when she was younger, or to her sister now, they get these looks on their faces like what is this dumbass talking about? I feel like telling the person, I think she has a higher IQ than you so you can’t stop talking down to her like that. Nothing annoys me more!

  3. Ugh, I love the made up words! Being german, as soon as people find out they try to throw the 5 german words at me that they picked up in movies for brain dead people. I know my language and guess what, I even know yours!
    But what really gets to me is when people can’t teach their kids the right names to body parts…really??? They act all shocked when my sons look at them and have no idea what they mean when they talk about a wee-wee, pipi or schnippi.
    Thanks for letting this out :)

  4. Um, I might be guilty of the odd diminutive ending. In German, adding a “chen” to make a word more size-appropriate to the little person my monster still is is just too tempting. Other than that I am absolutely with you. I am regularly tempted to strangle my mother-in-law when she asks my son whether he had had nice doodoos. Argh!!!

    And I agree with Anika, it is just ridiculous what names people come up with only so they won’t have to teach their kid to say penis.

    • Yeah, I do think the peepee/woowoo nonsense is a little different. Most people aren’t doing that because it’s cute. It’s more because they’re embarrassed to say “penis” and “vagina”. I get that, but people need to get over that, for the kids’ sake.

    • No, we say “poop”. I can’t add the “y” to it, though. “Poopy” would be too cute for me. Feces and stool are too clinical. I mean, I don’t use those terms to describe it to other grown-ups, so I don’t feel the need to teach them to my kids.

  5. It might sound ridiculous but research shows that baby talk or ‘infant directed speech’ helps infants learn to talk sooner. Interestingly, baby talk extends across cultures and languages. Neural scans even show that baby talk increases brain activity in the areas of the infant brain thought to govern language! It may not be pretty but at least there’s some biological basis :)
    Nat
    http://backstory.scienceblog.com/

    (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=Recognizing%20intentions%20in%20infant-directed%20speech%3A%20evidence%20for%20universals,http://www.psy.cmu.edu/faculty/thiessen/ThiessenHillSaffran.pdf, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20691794)

    • This was the first thing I thought of when I read this. Thank you for linking it so I didn’t have to go find it! :)

    • Interesting research, Nat. However, once a child has started to use proper words it surely can’t be good to use language on her that would only serve to empoverish her vocabulary?

    • Child-directed speech is not baby talk. It’s that higher pitch and softer tone that adults often use with young children.

  6. My mother in law absolutely kills me when she talks to my daughter. It annoys me so much that I often forced to leave the room. She makes her voice about two octaves higher and says things “Is gwacey wacey pwaying nice with her toy toys?” But that’s not even the worst. Unfortunately she doesn’t take the hint when I talk normally to Grace. So I will have to talk to her about it. My daughter is only six months so she can’t speak yet, but I always talk to her in proper english.

  7. One of my biggest fears of becoming a gay superdad is that I would have to congregate with annoying parents and either 1) constantly resist the urge to punch them in the face for this kind of behavior or 2) become one of them. You mean it’s possible I could continue to be myself, as you have done? For now, I’ll live vicariously through your smart, funny writing.

  8. First, let me say this: ALL OF MY YES.

    Second, when our son was first learing to speak, we’d work with the words he was saying. For example, when he’d say “mama” or “dada” we’d say, “That’s right, dada is your daddy!” The sounds they make turn into the words they mean to say, once they gain the ability to form them properly.

    I CAN’T STAND baby talk. It makes my skin crawl. In fact, we dumped our otherwise completely qualified pediatrician over it after a few well-baby exams. We just couldn’t take it.

    • I love that you dumped your doctor over it – I would, too! You can be fun and playful without talking down to kids.

      When they were little, my kids started saying “pop” to mean pacifier, and we all used that term. If you’re building off things they say and not just being it to be cute, then I can see how that would be helpful to developing their language.

      We were kind of hoping they’d come up with their own term to distinguish between Daddy and Daddy, but it hasn’t happened yet. I would’ve been proud to have been called something else if it was something they named me. Even if it was “Doody” or something. :)

  9. OOOHHH, my gosh! It’s NOT just me?! Thank you!
    That friggin’ drives me CRAZY.
    I can’t understand why people would use fake stupid-sounding words during the formative years. Then they wonder why the children take so long to talk. And why they talk funny. And why they struggle in school. *bangs head to wall*

  10. That is why adults are still…tawkin’ like dis to dis dey n tink iz kute. haha!! My autocorrect did NOT like that at all…I enjoyed this post, it was fun to read and right on POINT!! If we expect the best out of our children, we need to at least give them a fair foundation to start with. If we start them off with slop…well…

    GREAT POST!!

  11. while i agree with the sentiment, i don’t think you could have expressed your opinions in a more immature manner. i like reading blogs to learn something, not to have your half-assed, novice opinions crammed down my throat. the essence of your post was “i do not like baby talk.” you said nothing more, no facts to back it up, nothing…just “i do not like baby talk.” said over and over in different ways. i want the last five minutes of my life back.

    • While I agree that I couldn’t have expressed my opinions in a more immature manner (I see you got my punchline!), I regret that I can’t give you the last five minutes of your life back. Sorry. However, I know a way you can save far more time than that in the future. If you don’t appreciate half-assed, novice opinions, and if you can’t afford to lose five minutes now and then, then maybe your time would be better spent some way other than reading blogs. In fact, I’m pretty sure “Waste five minutes of people’s time cramming your half-assed, novice opinions down their throats” is printed just below the “Sign Up” button on the WordPress home page.

  12. I couldn’t agree more. My fiance refers to our son’s poop as “shoo shoo”….I have walked into the room while he was changing a diaper and heard him say “did you go shoo shoo?” I immediate gave him the eat shoo shoo and die look and informed that if I ever heard him refer to it as shoo shoo I would strangle him. Our son will be five months on the 31st so he isn’t talking yet, but the last thing I want is for him to learn ridiculous words such as shoo shoo. Thanks for the great post and I look forward to reading more!

    • “Shoo shoo” is a new one to me! Glad you’re on board. Reading some of these comments, I wonder if I’ve started a war between pro- and anti- baby talkers. Oh well, seems like I’ve got all the fun people on my side. :)

  13. Yes, yes, and YES! I even had to correct my husband earlier today when he referred to the baby’s poop sack as her “diap-y.” My kid will speak English. She calls her father Daddy, the cat by his name (ok, so that might be Kitty, but she still says it well!) and tells me my food is “good,” not “nom nom” or “yum yum” or some other bullshit. Great post!

  14. I used to kick people out of my house for talking to the girls like that. I told them they could return when they showed respect for my parenting choices.

    I’ve always believed that baby talk was damaging and those that said “it helps build a stronger bond” are just fools in denial of their own foolishness.

    • Awesome. I don’t give most baby talkers the credit to assume that they’ve actually researched and learned the supposed benefits of baby talking. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think they’re just fools, too.

  15. Jerry! You’re great! I totally agree with you. What’s up with the whole baby-talk thing? When I talk to small children,my 2-year-old sister for instance; I always talk to her using normal words. The only ting I change is the tone of my voice, and it’s more soft. But not so much that it just sounds stupid,I still sound like myself. When my brother was little,I didn’t use baby-talk on him either. When he started to learn how to speak,and he would say the words in his own way,I always responded back using normal words,and often repeated some of the things he said using the real word for it. And he ALWAYS understood what we were saying. For God sake, neither him or my sister was/are stupid! He knew what we were saying. That way could he learn the words properly himself. How on earth was he supposed to learn if we had been talking to him with just…nonsense? I mean,I don’t understand what the baby-talkers are saying sometimes. And my brother was an early-talker,and he could read when he was 2! Without baby-talk;)

    • Right. I have nothing against using a softer, even somewhat higher-pitched tone when talking to babies. You handle them gently, so it’s natural to talk gently, too. But that doesn’t mean you have to use nonsense words… or that you should keep talking to them like that as they get older. My kids are 2 1/2 and that nurse was talking to my son like he was an idiot. That’s the stuff I find absurd. Let the baby talkers do their thing. I still prefer our way.

  16. Oh! And I forgot to say; baby-talk is like pinching the cheek on a baby,why do people do that? WHY? Have you ever tried pinching yourself in the cheek? Seriously,it hurts! And people do that to innocent children…Come on! (Hopefully you’re not one of the cheek-pinchers…)

  17. I went back after reading and commenting earlier to do some research for my own blog. I found an interesting quote from the book that inspired my new blog, and I wanted to share it:

    “Have you ever noticed the scorn with which most children react to an adult who talks baby talk to them? Even the child realizes that the adult is making a fool of himself.”

    That made me giggle.

    Tootles.

    (Source of quote found on my blog)

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  19. Totally brilliant! Aged about 4 I tested my parents’ patiece to the limit. My dad is a journalist. Precisely because I was feeling ignored in the back seat I referred to some cows as “moo moos”. My father pulled over took me out of the car and gave me a wallop on the rear end. If I was going to talk like baby, I’d be treated as one. My kids, like yours, have perfected the WTF look. Strange adult: “Oooh, such a cute widdle wabbit. What is his name?” The response, “Rabbit. It’s a rabbit not a wabbit, and his name is Rabbit.” Duh! This is why our kids shouldn’t talk to strangers.

    • That’s so funny. I really hope my kids don’t start calling cows “moo moos” because they know it’ll push my buttons. I’ll refrain from the wallop, but there may have to be some punishment involved. :)

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  21. Your nurse was right. “Baby talk,” also called “motherese” or “infant-directed speech” actually improves language skills in children: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_talk#Use_with_infants

    “Other researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin confirm that using basic “baby talk” helps babies pick up words faster than usual. Infants actually pay more attention when parents use infant-directed language, which has a slower and more repetitive tone than used in regular conversation. “

    • Not really. ID is more how how you talk, not what words you say. To quote the scientific paper directly referenced in the wiki article: “In the early months of life, infants acquire information about the phonetic properties of their native language simply by listening to adults speak. The acoustic properties of phonetic units in language input to young infants in the United States, Russia, and Sweden were examined. In all three countries, mothers addressing their infants produced acoustically more extreme vowels than they did when addressing adults, resulting in a “stretching” of vowel space. The findings show that language input to infants provides exceptionally well-specified information about the linguistic units that form the building blocks for words..”

      Speaking in a higher pitched voice and stressing the formation of words, speakling slowly, gently, and with overemphasis on pitch variance- these things help infants learn language faster. Using the wrong words isn’t shown to be helpful or harmful to infant development, but when I nannied for a three year old who still called her bottle a “baba,” I could easily see how it could be a problem.

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