Not long ago I taught my daughter what a homophone is. Well, to be totally accurate, I first taught her what a homonym was. I was proud of myself, until I realized that this was, in fact, the wrong word for what we were talking about. We had been discussing things like “plane” and “plain,” or “toe” and “tow.” These, according to the dictionary, are homophones: two words spelled differently that sound the same but mean different things. A homonym is two words that are spelled the same but mean different things. Subtle difference but, I think, meaningful. So, even though MJ can’t spell yet, I explained my mistake to her and told her the correct word.
“Forget homonyms. It’s homophone. HOM-oh-phone.”
She took it well, and almost immediately started using the right term. Which is good. No sense sending her off to school with her grammatical terms conflated.
Anyway. All of that is to say that we’ve been talking a lot about homophones. MJ likes them. They appeal to her sense of order. And every once in a while, out of the blue, she comes out with a new one.
“Mom. Did you know what? ‘Bee,’ like bees that sting and ‘be,’ like, Mina be good! are homophones!”
And I say something that’s affirming without being over-praising, like “Yes! You found another one!” Because praise is so 2008.
Still. It’s pretty fun.
Of course sometimes she gets it wrong: “Mom. Did you know? ‘Magic,’ like abracadabra, and ‘Magic,’ like the dog Magic from the park? They’re homophones!”
“Um, kind of…”
But what can you do? She’s three.
Today, however, we encountered a new homophone-related conundrum. And this one was a real corker.
It was after art class, and we were eating at a Vietnamese restaurant with another mommy and her kid. Myra-Jean and I were splitting a bowl of chicken pho. Suddenly MJ looked up at me, her face glistening with broth.
“Mom. Guess what? ‘Chicken,’ like chicken pho, and ‘chicken,’ like our pet chickens at school? Are homophones!”
I cocked my head and forced a smile. Inwardly, however, I swore like a sailor. Whattodowhattodowhattodo? MJ has no idea chickens and chicken are the same! Not only have we not gotten to synonyms yet–we haven’t gotten to dead animals!
Ugh. I looked to my friend for help, but she was busy arguing with her daughter about soy skins. For a moment I truly wished we were vegetarians.
“Um…homophones? Are they really?” I stalled.
“They are!” replied MJ proudly.
Talk about a pickle. I’m really not sure Myra-Jean’s ready to handle the information that little Rosie and Queenie, the brown and black hens in her school yard who eat crumbs, flee children, and shit assiduously–shit, I might add, that we parents must immediately clean up with paper towels and bleach solution lest we “lose our license!”– are qualitatively the same as the pale strips of chewy flesh she is currently flapping in circles with her greasy fingers. After all, she’s a sensitive kid. She’s still afraid of the vacuum cleaner! She only stopped being terrified of leafblowers yesterday, and that was because her imaginary friend told her they were OK. Which is good, because it used to be that that same friend spent all her time warning MJ not to have kids. Which was causing some serious, if “imaginary,” problems between me and her.
Anyway. Chicken is also pretty much the only protein I can get Myra-Jean to eat. So, in this case, pragmatism trumped honesty.
“You know what?” I said brightly. “Chicken and chicken are homophones. You’re right.”
There’s plenty of time for correction later. Kindergarten is, after all, still two-and-a-half years away. In the meantime? Let the kid eat “chicken.”