Word Games

At breakfast this morning, Nate was doing his Daily Jumble and, in conversation, replaced the word “but” with “tushy.” Nate will play a little game of word substitution for his own amusement. It’s how his mind works, and part of his lifelong obsession with words, words for their own sake, not in the interests of communication.

It takes time to crack the Nate code. Sometimes its easier. When he began to request “tushy-er” on his toast, it was an obvious lampooning of “butt-er.” Clever, huh?

Others times it’s slightly more difficult, especially when his efforts are delivered in feats of tongue tying. Karen’s friend Roberta is oft referred to as “Ro-ernie-a.” Spelled phonetically, you can see the substitution that comes from Sesame Street favorites, Bert and Ernie. They are a pair; that’s all. One can replace the other in the middle of the name, not through a similarity of meaning or sound, but simply because they are a set.

Karen is not spared. She has been, and is still called, on occasion “Ka-stimpy,” a hilarious moniker. When my friend Dan gave Nate Pat the Stimpy, a Pat the Bunny parody complete with smelly socks scratch and sniff and other gross Ren and Stimpy-isms, it was not in vain.

There was one word replacement took us years to figure out. In fact we never did solve it on our own. When Nate was able and ready to explain himself, he gave us the answer.

Instead of saying “disgusting,” Nate would say “disjackting.” It was the first of its type, the prototype reassembled Frankenstein word. We weren’t aware of that at the time. In those days, he said all kinds of oddball things that had no decipherable reason for existing. This was different. He’d say “disjacting” as a real word and use it constantly. When the other examples like “tushy-er” came along, we recognized the pattern and turned our sights on the longest lasting puzzle.

You may have easily seen that the “gus” part of “disgust” had been lifted and “jack” put in its stead. Who are Gus and Jack? I didn’t know; none of us did, until the day Nate explained that Gus and Jack were the two mice in Disney’s Cinderella. That damned Disney! His work had resulted in an inordinate amount of Nate attention, to the point where it now mangled his language!

But it’s all in good fun. Nate’s enjoyment of language has, surely, caused him some trouble, but it’s how he thinks. A different type of intelligence is afoot. Now that he can explain his unique ways, “Nate-speak” has brought us a new topic of conversation, and he handles his end of it quite well. And while words like “Ka-stimpy” are created for Nate’s own giggles, it gives the Katz’ a special type of humor that has enriched our daily lives.

No “tushys” about it.

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About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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