WHITNEY: Toddlers, trucks and pronunciation problems

Monday is a garbage day — nothing special by most measures, but it’s a real treat at our house because that means Olivia gets to watch the trucks drive down the street in the morning and pick up all the cans with that amazing robotic claw-machine-like arm.

It’s fascinating for her, and would be more so for me if the trucks ever arrived before the coffee finished brewing. Nonetheless, watching garbage trucks on Monday mornings has become our ritual and quite the learning experience.

At her age, Olivia is supposed to be using a dozen or so words with regularity, and she does that and more. She’s eager to learn the names for things around her and she’s keen to try out colloquial expressions like “cool” or “awesome.”

So when we started watching garbage trucks and I introduced her to the word “truck,” I didn’t quite expect things to go so ... awry. Now, we’re walking down the street and as pick-up trucks, semis and utility vehicles pass by, my daughter seems to be pointing and shouting The F Word. 

Clear as day, unmistakable F Bombs falling out of her mouth, forcing me to explain to everyone in earshot, “I’m sorry, she’s just trying to say truck.”

And she is, honestly. 

I know I’ve written here before about the “language” used at some of our family gatherings (thanks to everyone who’s ever inquired about Uncle Paul; he’s doing just fine). But since Olivia’s baby babble has turned into more serious copy-catting conversation, everyone has been great at tempering their discourse. 

But you’d never know it to hear Olivia speak these days, especially in a town like Big Rapids where every house has a truck parked in the driveway and our decision to own two sedans has been questioned as if we’d traded in both vehicles for mopeds. Everywhere you look, there’s a truck of some sort, and my kid is gleefully shouting The F Word, proud that she can identify yet another object in the world. 

“I SAY F---!” she shouts, intending to tell me she sees a truck. 

“Yep, that’s right, that is a TRuck,” we reply, trying to emphasize the tr sound at the beginning of the word. 

To be fair to our little language pioneer, we’re having the same “problem” with all tr words. When she asks to feed the cats some treats, it comes out as “fitz” or “feet.” Her daycare provider recently asked me what “joshie” or “sah-shie” meant because she says it constantly. I didn’t have an answer on that one — she says it at home a lot too, in reference to a variety of things, and I don’t have a clue what she’s talking about. 

How long will we be tasked with explaining to everyone that our daughter isn’t some rowdy potty-mouthed heathen? Maybe quite a bit longer, according to some children’s articulation charts. By 2 years old, children should be understood by their closest family members. By 3, everyone who lives or works with the child likely will understand them, and by 4, 90 percent of all adults should get it too.

So if you see us out and about, shouting The F Word at passing motorists, lend us a bit of understanding especially if the passing vehicle is a dually or a dump truck. 

I’ll politely explain that my daughter actually means to say truck, and you’ll have to believe I’m not just trucking with you.