The Joy of “Literally”

The Joy of "Literally"

This year Minette has become an amateur and eager practitioner of literal jokes. It all began when my friend Tomoko gave her an Amelia Bedelia box set on her sixth birthday. If you are American I bet Amelia Bedelia is somewhere in your mental landscape — the character was created in the 1960s and new books continue to be published to this day. If you are not American, she’s a delightful girl / young woman (depending on what book series you pick) who tends to take things very literally. Hilarious situations generally ensue.

One thing I like about Amelia Bedelia is that she is not only challenged by language, she also challenges it. Like when she says that, in her family, they don’t dust furniture but rather “undust” it. Minette loves quoting Amelia Bedelia in our conversations and she also enjoys pretending to understand literally the expressions we use.

After we started playing the game I realized it was probably inspired by Les Idiomatics, a series of little books published in France ca 1990. Each book explored a different language with a collection of expressions in the original language presented with both their literal translations and idiomatic equivalents in French, plus goofy literal illustrations to boot. I remember reading Les Idiomatics with great pleasure in my salad days.

There is an idiom I discovered after moving to America, as it turns out yet another Shakespearian coinage. I have a soft spot for “salad days” maybe because its meaning is a little mysterious at first, then seems spot-on once you know it — think of how green and crisp (and also a bit tasteless?) youth can feel in hindsight… Maybe also because I am making a connection with Les Salades de l’amour, the book written by the character Antoine Doinel in the last opus of Truffaut’s eponymous film series.

I love language(s) for sure but I did not expect we would have so much fun with it as parents. I have to thank Minette and her personal sense of humor for that. Come to think of it, I also have to thank her typically American taste for silliness. As Appa has noted on several occasions, the French are not very good at being silly. Or at least we usually do not think of silliness as a way to engage with life. Well, I have learned from my American daughter that it is and that I should nurture it as much as I am able to. And that, my friends, is no salad telling!

2 Replies to “The Joy of “Literally”

  1. As newlyweds my husband and I used to read the Sunday funnies out loud to each other. We continued the tradition with our sons, all of us crowded on the couch to see the pictures and laugh. The boys liked to get the jokes and sometimes subtle humor with cultural references we could explain as needed. I once heard humor described as laughing with, where comedy is laughing at. Laughing with family is a deep, vibrant treasure. Enjoy!

    1. We sure are enjoying! Thank you, Susan, for your genuine interest in our language games and for playing along. It’s even more fun with you!

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