The private languages of Lego

I recall having a strong sense of Lego nomenclature as well, though I’m hazy on the details. I should go out to the storage bins in the garage to root around and see if the touch of plastic can retrieve any specific terms. Meanwhile, Language Log’s Geoff Pullum sums up this delightful article well: “It’s about the deep-seatedness of children’s need to have names for all the things they deal with — and the lack of any necessity for there to be pre-existing names in the language they happen to have learned.”

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Then, when another seven-year-old came round for tea after school one day, I overheard the two of them, busy in the spaceship construction yard that used to be our living room, get into a linguistic thicket.

“Can you see any clippy bits?” my son asked his friend. The friend was flummoxed. “Do you mean handy bits?” he asked, pointing.

“Yes,” replied my boy. “Clippy bits.”

Of course! This language of Lego isn’t just something our family has invented; every Lego-building family must have its own vocabulary. And the words they use (mostly invented by the children, not the adults) are likely to be different every time. But how different? And what sort of words?


from “A Common Nomenclature for Lego Families,” by Giles Turnbull, The Morning News, 4 November 2009 :: via languagehat.com

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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