Thursday, April 03, 2008


Last summer when my wife was taking courses and I was taking care of the kids, M. & T. and I would go down to Chapters and spend a few hours browsing. It was during one of those trips that a book called Frindle caught my eye. The publisher's blurb was about a boy and a dictionary and a new word. I was hooked.

Somehow, though, we got onto a Roald Dahl kick and Frindle was shelved. It wasn't until last week that I remembered it, and pulled it out.

Nick is a sharp kid who usually has his teacher's number, but when he gets into grade five, he comes up against Mrs. Granger. "Mrs. Granger didn't enjoy the dictionary. She loved the dictionary." And she loved assigning vocabulary study from it. On the first day of class, Nick, thinking he could distract her and avoid the assignment asks, "Mrs. Granger, you have so many dictionaries in this room, and that huge one especially... Where did all those words come from?" As any good teacher will do, Mrs. Granger has Nick find the answer on his own, which leads him to his brilliant plan.

Two days later,

"Nick walked into the Penny Pantry store and asked the lady behind the counter for a frindle.

She squinted at him. "A what?"

A frindle, please. A black one," and Nick smiled at her.

She leaned over close and aimed one ear at him. "You want what?"

"A frindle," and this time Nick pointed at the ballpoint pens behind her one the shelf. "A black one, please."

The lady handed Nick the pen...

Six days later, Janet stood at teh counter of the penny Pantry. Same store, same lady. John had come in the day before, and Pete the day before that, and Chris the day before that, and Dave the day before that. Janet was the fifth kid that Nick had sent there to ask taht woman for a frindle.

And when she asked, the lady reached right for the pens and said, "Blue or black?"

The book is full of stuff like this. It's got it all: word coinage, prescriptivist/descriptivist battles, language change. It's the perfect introduction to linguistics for your average 8-year old (or your precocious 6-year old). And it's a damn good read too. After reading chapter 6 to T. & M. and saying goodnight, I took the book down and finished it myself.

Oh, and Mrs. Granger? She makes you see prescriptivism in a whole new light. Hooray for Dangerous Grangerous!

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