Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/810

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stituted for the words "Hallowed be thy name," "Harold be thy name."[1] In this and similar cases it is not, as might be supposed, defective hearing—children hear words, as a rule, with great exactness. It is the impulse to give a familiar and significant rendering to what is strange and meaningless.[2] A friend of mine could recall that when a boy he was accustomed, on hearing the passage, "If I say peradventure the darkness," etc., to insert a pause after "peradventure," apprehending the passage in this wise: "If I say 'Peradventure!' the darkness is." In this way he turned the mysterious "peradventure" into a mystic "Open Sesame," and added a fine touch of romantic color to the passage. My friend's daughter tells me that on hearing the passage "shewing his mercy unto the thousands and visiting the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation," she construed the strange word "generation" to mean an immense number like billions, and was thus led to trouble herself about God's seeming to be more cruel than kind.

In some cases, too, where the language is simple enough a child's brain will find our meaning unsuitable and follow a line of interpretation of its own. Mr. Canton relates that his little girl, who knew the lines in Strumpelpeter—

"The doctor came and shook his head,
And gave him nasty physic too"—

was told that she would catch a cold, and that she at once replied, "And will the doctor come and shook my head? "[3] It was so much more natural to suppose that when the doctor came and did something this was done on the person of the patient.

There is something of this same desire to get behind words in children's word-play, as we call it, their discovery of odd affinities of verbal sound, and their punning. Though, no doubt, this contains a genuine element of childish fun, it betokens a more serious trait also, a deep interest in word-sounds as such, and a curiosity about their origin and purpose. It is difficult for grown-up people to go back in thought to the attitude of the child-mind toward verbal sounds. Just as children show "the innocence of the eye" in seeing the colors of objects as they are and not as our habits of interpretation tend to make them, so they show an innocence of the ear, catching the intrinsic sensuous qualities of a word or a group of words, in a way which has become impossible for us.

  1. In The Illustrated London News, June 30, 1894.
  2. Of course, defective auditory apprehension may assist in these cases. Goltz gives an example from his own childhood. He took the words "Namen nennen Dich nicht" to be "Namen nenne Dich nicht," and was sorely puzzled at the idea of bidding a name not to name itself.
  3. The Invisible Playmate, p. 35.