Regularly these days, if not daily, I feel like I’m turning into a lexicographer. Kid A hears new words all the time and he wants to know what they mean and how to say them properly. After I dig around my brain for definitions and synonyms, Kid A invariably tries out the new words in conversation, in a song, with his stuffed animals, or however and wherever he can. He then usually comes back to me (or shoots me a glance), seeking affirmation in his work or redirection. These exchanges are usually quick and to the point, that is, if I’m up to the challenge. Occasionally they produce pretty hilarious exchanges between budding adolescent and [insert adjective here] pa, especially if it’s a phrase that we’re tackling rather than just a word. If that phrase is not in English, well, then all bets are off as to what might come of it.
Yesterday, a minor breakfast mishap – a bowl of pineapple mysteriously “bounced” onto the floor – elicited a mildly dramatic lament from Kid A, to which I said “C’est la vie.” Kid A promptly furrowed his brow and said, “What did you say?” “C’est la vie,” I replied. He asked, carefully sounding out the three syllables he’d just heard, “/say/ /la/ /vee/, what does that mean?” And I said something like, “It means ‘that’s life,’ and it’s a phrase in the French language; we use it to say that what just happened is only a minor disappointment, nothing to fret over.” Naturally, he wanted to try out the phrase, so he asked me to say it again.
I did, slowly saying each word: “C’est…la…vie.”
He replied quickly and proudly: “La VEE!” [Thinking, of course, that I said: “Say – ‘la vie.'”]
“No, no. C’EST la vee.”
“La VEE!” he shouted, smiling.
“No, c’est, c’est la vie. The whole phrase is ‘c’est la vie,'” I said.
Still smiling, and certain that he understood, he shouted, “LA VEE.”
“It’s c’est la vie, buddy. You must say the entire phrase: ‘c’est la vie.'”
“La VEE!” he exclaimed.
We went back and forth like this for five minutes or more, both laughing — me at the cross-language and phonetic goof of it all; him at me, laughing. I don’t know if he ever got it or not, to be honest. Certainly he will soon enough. For now, it stands as a veritable Abbot and Costello moment, des adolescents de style.