“HOW are you, hon?”
“Come again … what do you mean ‘shi’?”
“When I say shi, I mean shi.”
“Oh, you mean you feel like ‘shite’? Why didn’t you say so? Finish your words, hon.”
“You did it again! It’s supposed to be ‘alright’. Speak properly, for goodness sake!”
“YOU DID IT AGAIN!”
“Oh, for fooook’s sake, Ma …”
I walk away, unable to take any more. During the past few months, my daughter’s accent has immeasurably changed. While we are country people with ordinary, local accents, I’ve no idea where this new way of speaking has come from. You couldn’t even call her new way of speaking an accent because there’s no particular nuance or intonation about it. No, it’s not an accent; it’s more that she really couldn’t be bothered speaking … like she had better things to do than to actually communicate in the spoken language.
It wasn’t always like this. This is a new phenomenon in our household. She used to love words and relished using them. Indeed, if there was a word she didn’t understand, she’d be the first to ask its meaning.
It’s not that long ago, either, when she’d pipe up out of the blue something along the lines of, “isn’t twig a lovely little word, Ma? It’s the perfect word to describe what a twig is. Twig, twig, twig.”
I marvelled at her astute literary observation like a proud mother.
Another time, over dinner, she said: “Isn’t ‘meal’ a vile word? It sounds ugly and mean for something that’s so enjoyable. Imagine saying that you’re going for a meal? Awful! Eating a meal? Disgusting!”
Such sweet innocent times segued seamlessly into a fluency for cursing. Right about the time she hit the age of 14, my sweet-tongued daughter began to spew profanities with a shocking eloquence. There was a direct correlation between the level of oestrogen that was raging around her body and the degree and vehemence of her bad words. When she was in the humour, no-one was safe from her sharp-tongued observations. Teachers, classmates, her father, celebrities on TV, me – we were all fair game as she breathed fire and brimstone. Such disdain is part of being a teenager, however unpleasant it is for those around to witness it, and at least I had some notion of what was going on.
Then she went through a period of trying on different accents. Depending on who she had spent the day with in school, she could have been born and bred in Dublin (she wasn’t) or an American kid from the telly. She was, in fact, a linguistic chameleon adopting methods of speech to see what they were like.
Now, she’s shed her vocal dexterity and only the minimum amount of words, mostly single-syllable ones, are employed. It’s the verbal equivalent of wearing baggy-arsed sweat pants – apathetic, unattractive and sloppy.
From being a sweetly eloquent child to a profanity-spewing teen, she’s now a sullen, monosyllabic enigma.
One has to wonder what’s going on in that head of hers as she sits plugged into the phone, listening to music and ‘talking’ to her friends online.
In the real world, she brings the word ‘taciturn’ to a new level. It’s a land where everything and every situation can be summed up with a grunt or a single syllable. It’s a world where words have been stripped back and sentences have been executed to death. Conversations, implying as they do, hundreds of words strung together, have been exiled and may be gone for some time.