“I found some words with lotta syllables!” she announced and pulled a crumpled list out of her back pocket.
She and I have been working together for some time. Born very prematurely and with various – if not always visible – neurological challenges, she has had to work hard for every milestone, every skill, each speech-sound. At nine years old, she had good intelligibility in short words and brief phrases, but her clarity was still vulnerable in longer words or sentences.
“Hi-ppo-po-ta-mus,” she read, tapping syllables on the table. “Five!”
I smiled. This girl never needed prodding. Her internal motivation put most people to shame. If she put her mind to something, you better believe it that she’d go the distance for it, and then some. She wanted to be an actress and actresses needed good diction. She was going to make sure hers measured up.
“Ca-li-for-ni-ya and Phi-la-del-phi-a … both five! I-ma-gi-na-ry … five!”
She read several more words, repeating any one that lost a sound or two in the process. When she got it right, she repeated it again, insistent on perfection.
“My dad helped me find them,” she pointed to the list. “We had fun thinking them up in the car. We found lots of words with four … like ‘as-pa-ra-gus’ and ‘par-ti-cu-lar’, but not so many with five. Are there any words with even more, like … with six syllables?”
“Quite a few,” I smiled again. “Some you probably know.”
“Oh!” She whispered to herself and counted the syllables on her fingers, “yeah, six!”
“Like in writing?”
“Exactly like in writing. Then there’s: identification, autobiography, veterinarian, personification, generalization …”
She wrote each word down. Practiced saying it. “Do you know any weird ones with six syllables?”
“Hmm,” I nodded. “How about ‘discombobulated'”?
She laughed. “My grandma says that one.”
She twisted her lips. “That’s not weird, just boring.”
It was my turn to laugh. “Fair enough.” I thought a moment. “Infinitesimal?”
She was going to make me work for it. “How about …” I winked, “mispronunciation?”
“Ha-ha, very funny,” she rolled her eyes. “Try again.”
She raised her eyebrows and waited. A moment ticked by as words trickled into my brain, six-syllabled but certainly not weird enough to qualify: visualization, spirituality, irregularity, disorganization, availability, cardiovascular. …
The room darkened as clouds passed over the sun and the wind picked up. The forecast promised thunderstorms. I was about to give up to a google search when a chime jangled in my window and with it came inspiration.
“I have it!” I exclaimed. “Tintinnabulation!”
For The Daily Post