Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

A Few Choice Words

Posted by Neal on October 10, 2004

Doug got croup, again, last Wednesday, and stayed home from school on Thursday. But on Friday he seemed well enough to go to school, so we sent him. When I picked him up, though, his teacher said he hadn’t been himself that day. She said, “He chose not to watch Letter People, and that’s not like him.”

That struck me as odd, since the last I’d heard, the Letter People videos were not one of the options offered during the Free Choice part of the day. During the parent orientation, the teacher had said the class would watch a Letter People episode every Friday.

Then I realized: This might not be the “free choice” choose; it was probably the “you have to take responsibility for your own behavior” choose that I’d heard a number of teachers use. I asked for clarification: “You mean it was one of his choices and he just didn’t choose it, or he was supposed to watch it and he didn’t?” His teacher confirmed that he should have been watching it.

The choose-language takes a little getting used to. It reminds me of a few years ago when Doug had just learned the verb manage. For a few weeks, it seemed, nothing came easy for Doug–anything he did, he managed to do. Likewise, anything kids do at school, they choose to do. Well, anything bad that they do, they choose to do. They can choose to do good stuff, too, but usually it’s the bad stuff that they need to get talked to about.

I wonder if this generation of kids will incorporate these negative connotations into their lexical semantics for choose, so that it will actually be ungrammatical in their language to say something like, “I chose to get in shape and learn a foreign language.” I reckon it’ll depend on how often they hear choose used to describe something good that someone did.

7 Responses to “A Few Choice Words”

  1. Anonymous said

    Opt-In 4 Healthy Kids!

    First, I think your kids need to be take more vitamin C; they get sick far too often. One gram in the morning and one at night isn’t too much for them or for you. My twenty pound, 10 year old terrier tolerates 5 grams a day with no problem! In addition, when the kids begins to show symptoms of illness it is time to double or triple the dose. If you catch the germ in time you can sometimes stop the full-blown cold. Keep them off the sickly sweet drinks too! Don’t elect not to vitaminize your kids, Neil. It is not something you should opt out of because of the low cost to benefit ratio. Don’t make the wrong choice in the matter!! I remember, during my college years, being in lecture halls with sick and coughing students usually around the holiday season. I resented being exposed to their germs. Don’t let your kids to be even periodically sick. It is NOT normal. Your kids will “chose” to participate in far more fun activities if they are feeling good. And, please don’t make Adam kiss his brother good night when Doug is sick and vice versa. Please remove my option to (reluctantly) call Child Protective Services on you (of all people). Don’t give me the choice!

    –Coughing Cookie Monster

  2. Anonymous said

    Yeah, Neal, Doug and Adam do get sick a lot. My take is that places like that playground in the mall are to blame (maybe). Whenever I see a pool full of balls to play in or plastic animals that kids can climb on, or all the stuff at McDonald’s, I always think “Damn, what a sneeze-fest–a germ paradise.” Playgrounds outside at least get somewhat cleaned by way of rain and wind, but those indoor kiddie places kind of gross me out. Mom and Dad took a friend and me to get an egg mcmuffin the morning before the meet they came to last semester, and my friend and I posed together for pictures on the playground equipment. I got sick later that week. Yes, I could have gotten sick from something else, but that didn’t do anything to make me feel better about those playgrounds and such.
    And, trumpit, I know that was you posting even though you’re supposed to be going through blog post-withdrawal therapy. Neal’s name was spelled Neil. Did you fall of the wagon?
    Ellen

  3. Anonymous said

    Also, maybe this is a good time to tell Doug the story of the 4-4-3-2 Mulligan Stew comic book choice (or whatever the health-reading comic book was). Since you’re noting that “choice” is a term used in the place of “have to” in school.
    Ellen

  4. Anonymous said

    Ellen, you would make a good detective or doctor because you can pick up on my lack of subtlety. Yes, I’m trying to fix the wagon so I can get back on. I now have greater sympathy for people with addictive problems now that I’m in the throws of one myself. I wonder about the cold turkey approach though. Is that the best way to go? As far as Neil vs. Neal goes, I’m slightly addicted to Neil because I live on Neilson Way!

    Btw, I’m also opposed to silver (mercury) fillings and I’d advise NEAL to not let the dentist put any of those in the kid’s teeth. Amalgam fillings are good for caries because they are so toxic to the germs. If they are toxic to the germs, what do you think they do to you and me? Find an alternative. And, I’m sorry about the crummy problems you’ve had with braces and orthodentists. The horror stories I could tell you about my experience with dentists. Suffice it to say that dentistry used to be an artistic endeavor even more so than a medical science one. Dentists used to be skilled in designing gold inlays and onlays. Most dentists today only know how to lop off the tooth and put on a full crown. Besides requiring talent, it is not “cost effective” to do detailed, time-consuming restorations anymore. Dentistry is truly a lost art.

    –Unveiled Cookie Monster w/ a toothache

  5. Tony said

    Well, antibiotics are “toxic” to bacteria, and yet they aren’t to you… so I dont’ think your analogy holds up.

    But I just wanted to mention… I wonder if anyone, even today, “chhoses” to lose weight or learn a foreign language… IMHO if it happens they usually “manage” to do it!

  6. […] two guesses. One is that given educators’ tendency to preface verbs with choose to (noted here), it could just be a matter of simple analogy: do your homework is to choose to do your homework as […]

  7. […] by Neal on December 31, 2009 Back in 2004, and again in 2007, I wrote about the unusual use of choose and choice among teachers and school […]

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