Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Adam’s Free Time

Posted by Neal on February 15, 2011

Every summer when Doug and Adam take swim lessons (at the pool I’ve talked about before), I put up with the instructors calling the crawl “freestyle,” bringing up yet another generation of kids to think that freestyle means crawl. I can understand this usage in the Olympics, because there, freestyle really does mean you can choose your stroke, and it’s just that for most swimmers, you’d be a fool to choose anything but the crawl. And as a linguist, I can understand the process by which freestyle undergoes this semantic narrowing. But as always, I don’t have to like it, and what the swim teachers call freestyle, I continue to call the crawl.

So what got me thinking about swimming, here in the middle of winter? Conversations I have with Adam, which go something like this one:

Me: OK, time to do your homework.
Adam: But I haven’t had any free time today!
Me: Sure you did! You slept until almost noon this morning.
Adam: I mean I haven’t had any video game time!

Or this one:

Me: All right, let’s do some violin practice.
Adam: So you’re saying I get no free time at all? Because after this it’ll be time for showers and get ready for bed!
Me: You had an more than an hour of free time between when you got home from school and supper.
Adam: But Doug was on the P[lay]S[tation]3 almost that whole time!

No. No R-based narrowing of free time on my watch. In my house, it will continue to refer to time you can spend as you wish, regardless of whether you spend it playing video games.

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5 Responses to “Adam’s Free Time”

  1. The Ridger said

    I see it doesn’t occur to him to do his homework while his brother is playing the video games. what a surprise.

    (ps – and I did not know that the crawl was still the (Australian) crawl. I thought “they” had changed its name!)

  2. gacorley said

    I am one of those people who learned that “freestyle” was what you call a “crawl”. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I had the same stroke, because it seemed to me strange to call that stroke a “crawl” (some semantic weirdness to me, I couldn’t figure how it resembled crawling, though the Wikipedia animation clears it up a little). I suppose the language is changing here quite rapidly.

  3. dgm said

    I endure this (almost) exact conversation/complaining session with my 8 year old regarding his free time. In the past I’ve responded by describing how, in fact, he spent those leisurely increments of time. You have now inspired me to instead respond, “Whoa, Pony! No R-narrowing of free time on my watch!” I think that says it all. Thank you for that. :)

    • Neal said

      DGM! It’s good to hear from you! The last time I checked Sunny Side Up for the latest adventures of Tom, Jade, and Kai, it was locked. Locked!

  4. dgm said

    Neal, sorry about that! Nothing personal. It was an impulsive move, triggered by a creepy guy (no, not you! Not even Glen! :) ) I meant to send readers (except for the creepy one) the super secret password, but I never got around to it. I haven’t blogged there since, but I’ve actually had a hankering to return to it, as we have continued to have adventures. I’ll email you the key to unlock this magical world.

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