Overheard at the breakfast table

6 year old {Drops piece of toast on the floor}: Damn!

4 year old {disapprovingly to 6 year old}: You’re not supposed to say ‘damn’. That’s not nice for children to say.

12 year old {impishly to 4 year old}: But you’re a child, and you just said ‘damn’.

4 year old {brow furrows; pensively in response to 12 year old}: But … I’m not saying it – I’m just talking about it!

There is hope for the future.


Comments

Overheard at the breakfast table — 3 Comments

  1. John,

    That’s hope for the future indeed! Hats off to the 4-year-old. But I thought I’d try to take up the cause of the 12-year-old. S/he may – just may – not deserve what looks like clear defeat in the face of a use/mention lesson. So, 12, here’s a comeback for you – if you deserve it. (There’s a scenario in which you do.)

    12: Well, I couldn’t be sure that you were just talking about it. (I’ll grant that I didn’t clearly get my point across, though.) Why? Because you may have given us an instance of this general phenomenon: saying something indirectly. I’ll give you some examples of this general phenomenon. A person can communicate hostility as follows: “I’d never say that you’re a complete idiot”, “Your honor, I didn’t mean to imply that the prosecution is a perfect imbecile”, “Anybody who calls you the liar of the century is wrong”, etc. Do you see how one may manage to communicate an insult without actually saying it? Now, I wasn’t sure that you weren’t expressing solidarity with 6 when s/he said “damn”. When you said that it’s not nice for a child to say that, you might, with great subtlety, be trying to convey the following thought: “Even though, quite obviously, most adults would get away with saying ‘damn’ when their toasts fall to the ground, you shouldn’t say it just because you are a child, not because this is not the kind of situation in which one’s saying ‘damn’ would be a proper response to the mishap.” See? If that were what you meant, you would be endorsing the content of 6’s cursing without actually saying it. The evidence didn’t allow me to rule out the possibility. And, by the way, 4, didn’t you wink at 6 when you said it?!

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