How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

The Language of Parents

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The Language of Parentese

Talking is such an important milestone in raising kids. But having kids, for whatever reason, apparently comes with a cost: your own ability to speak properly.

Maybe it’s just my wife and me (I’m only saying that to be generous and polite). I know from conversing with plenty other parents that it’s not just our sad, sorry arses. You see, we used to speak English, but now we speak Parentese.

Parents don’t speak it all the time, of course. It’s more like what multi-lingual people do when they bounce back-and-forth between languages. If we spoke Parentese all the time, we know we’d be sent to the hospital to get checked out so often that they’d name a parking spot after us near the head trauma ward.

This may not be the story of our lives, but it’s a fair sample of its dialog.

Grammar Are Unusual

“Is those a apple?”
“Which ones that’s are more bigger?”

Don’t dread that you’re supposed to be teaching by example and that you don’t want your kid to grow up sounding like a drunk rap star reciting Yoda quotes in Pig Latin. It’s okay, it’s normal. All your grammar are belong to Parentese.


“We soh a beelloon at the park. Soh? Beeloon?”
“How many diapahrs did you bring? DiapAHRS?!? Diapahrs diapahrs diapahrs! Ha ha ha ha!”

These variations on the person’s normal language will nearly invariably be repeated by them in a silly or self-conscious way. It’s almost completely involuntary.

Incomplete Sentences and …

“So I texted that he’s running a fever and that’s… um… what was I talking about?”

Your train of thought derailed. It happens. You went on a sidetrack in your story, or got lost at a conjunction junction and couldn’t find your way back to the right conversation station.

Frag… mented… Speech

“You really… that’s not… if your… stop it.”

Thoughts can be expressed like a skipping stone, splattering across your vocabulary before finally plopping to a stop and sinking to the bottom of what you were trying to say.

Loss of Punctuation in Speech

“Not me there were some I didn’t see when do you last go.”

It doesn’t have to be a lot, but the words were machine-gunned so fast, it can take a moment or a decryption team to separate the smear of consciousness.


“I-I um I… I d-don’t kn…y-yeah, yes I washed it off first.”

Don’t worry, speech therapy is not needed. This is just the accent one occasionally puts on Parentese when one’s mind is sputtering from a bone-dry tank of gas or roaring with the rocket fuel of panic.


“Are they the ones that she said we need when he has it?”

Pronouns. The sentence above could make perfect sense if you knew who “they” were, what “ones” refers to, who “she” and “he” are, and what “it” is. In Parentese none of these things are necessary. Yes, pronouns act as shortcut references in normal language, but since parents are shortcut junkies, Parentese is filthy-stinking rich with them.

Multiple Negatives

“Totally not, yes.”
“I don’t not think no.”
“No, don’t not don’t do it.”

These kinds of statements can leave one feeling like they just played verbal Three Card Monte, the positives and the negatives sliding around like playing cards on a table, leaving people wondering if there’s even a Queen to correctly guess at.

Bargled Words & Sybabbles

“Was that the Cadamamy-Award-winning vumie?”
“Stop boobing my grabbies!”

These garbled, Dr. Seuss sounding sentences are normally ended with long pauses followed by a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Or, for shier types, with a blush so bright it’s visible in the dark.

Slowly but surely, you become fluent in Parentese. Don’t fight it. There may be a point where you feel like a monkey because you’re doing such a piss poor job of speaking. You may just want to say eff it, start pointing frantically at an object while grunting, and then throw poop at some curious bystanders.

So, if someone you’re talking to starts looking at you like there’s something very wrong with your head, just laugh and give ’em a “whoops, not again!” roll of your eyes and tell them you probably just slipped into the other language you speak. And if that doesn’t work? Yep. Throw poop at them and run.*

* Don’t actually throw your poop or your baby’s poop at anyone. If you do, just don’t say that I told you to do it. But if you do do it, and video it, and it goes big-time viral, please remember to credit me.


“Fookbase me.”
The improper grammar, bad spelling and incoherence of Parentese will fit right in on Facebook.

“Here’s now is some pictures.”
Herp. Derp.


45 Responses to “The Language of Parents”

  1. Christina says:

    I totally pulled a Doc the other day and switched the first letters of the words I was trying to say!

    I haven’t done all these, but a couple do ring true! Like the stuttering and the incomplete sentences – lol.

    Ohhh…and Deepers and “Bubbles in the Potty”. I ask my husband if he needs to put bubbles in the potty now…

  2. Monica says:

    The comparison to skipping rocks is awesome and true. My son is still mostly babbling but I imagine my Parentese will get better as he starts making more words. Glad to know that I will be in the same boat as others when the time comes. Love it!

    • felidstar says:

      At our stage, the “parentese” involves incorporating words into our language that have no relation to normal English (or any other language other than Toddler)… ex: My son entered the “What’s That” stage a little early (14m), pretty much as soon as he figured out pointing. So he pointed and said “What’s That” pretty much perfectly for a week…. then it became “Wassat?”, then “That?”, and now finally and for some unknown reason “Ka?” Tried to correct it at first, and now my husband and I not only understand what he’s saying, we use it back *hangs head*

    • Andy says:

      Don’t worry it requires no learning tapes or software and comes completely naturally. πŸ˜‰

  3. Lizzie says:

    LOL!! This is our lives for sure! I don’t think have said a proper sentence in almost 3 jears…oh I mean beers no no years !! πŸ˜‰

  4. MotherDuck says:

    This is great! I think I do something that also follows in this category and has been made fun of by the likes of Mr. Cosby himself: I sometimes go into such a brain overload that I cannot for the life of me say the name of the child in front of me. Example: I want my daughter Lily to pull out a fresh trash bag for me and I say, “Jasmine, Welly, Brett, Zach, Grandma Claire…Goddammit! Give me a trash bag, child!”

    • Jess says:

      lol….that just made my day. Thanks, MotherDuck! I too have done that one many, many times and my child doesn’t even talk yet. Hmm….that doesn’t say much for myself now does it. πŸ˜‰

    • Christina says:

      My parents did that to. My dad once made it to the dog’s name before finally landing on my brother’s name =p

    • Mel says:

      My Dad often cycled through the names of all my sisters two or three times before he’d get the right name (and there are a LOT of us, so many that he joked that my youngest sister was born on my birthday because we’d run out of days of the year), and sometimes throw in random names, neighbour, boss, cat etc.

      My language skills haven’t changed much since I had kids, I think I’ve been speaking parentese my whole life

    • Andy says:

      Oh god yes. I can’t believe I missed this one! My mom used to do this with all our family names AND our PETS AND any name she could think of: Joe, Bob, Frank. Sometimes she wouldn’t even get to my name before she deflated and gave up.

      We get the boys names screwed up all the time. I’ve called my wife Dad and Mom. My fave is the one time when I call my father-in-law Darlin’.

    • Leah says:

      This happens at about 10x the normal rate when we go to our family reunions. My name at any given moment could have been Heather, Melissa, Sharon, Shawna, Sandra, Lauren, Emily, Grace, Elaine.. etc. (aunts and cousins) then cycled through the boys as well some times. Can’t wait to see what happens at the next one, as there are more of us, including my own daughter!

  5. I feel so understood.

  6. It’s funny how drunk talk and parent talk are eerily similar. Intoxicated by stress and sleep deprivation. My wife is the Queen of Pronouns and I don’t ever get to finish a sentence because I have the quietest voice in the family.

    Thank you for another fine post that allows me to laugh at my pain.

  7. You neglected to mention the A C R O N Y M.

    “Can you please pass me a B I S C U I T?”

    Where you start spelling out all words that may incite a reaction in your child. You become remarkably adept at doing this at speed so other people completely lose what you’re talking about. Often results in momentary pauses from others in the conversation while they reassemble the word you just dissected.

    • MotherDuck says:

      Ha ha! Totally! Until you realize they can spell now.

    • Andy says:

      So true!!! And YOU forgot to mention in your reminder of Acronyms to mention the MISspellings we Parentese speakers fall into. πŸ˜‰

    • Stiku says:

      We, who live in countries where it is compulsory to learn foreign languages in school simply speak in another language when we don’t want the kids to understand us. People I know use Swedish and English for this. Works until the kid goes to school and learns to speak those languages, too. When that happens, we are as screwed as you are…

  8. LMFAO! This is awesome! And sadly, so very true. You are your wife are not alone. Actually, you’re in excellent company, if I do say so myself. πŸ˜‰

  9. My 2.5 year old always uses the article “an” before nouns, like “I want an peach” or “That’s an large elephant”.

    Now I find myself doing the same thing. Not good for a writer.

    • Andy says:

      Ohmygod! That is insanely cute! I want an child who does this!

    • Leah says:

      My friend’s kid of the same age adds “a” before things as well. It took me ages to figure out that “babyzabunting” was Baby Bunting. She also says “go see a Leah” to her mom when they come visit me.

  10. I think your vocabulary and grammar gets worst with each child. Luckily, I stopped at one. LOL!

  11. Aimee says:

    I had my first job interview today after getting canned at the end of march…in this time i have been stay-at-home-mommy….I realized today AT the interview that I have completely forgotten how to speak to grown-ups.

  12. Evonne says:

    So totally true!!! thank you for helping me to laugh at myself (yet again).

    Our eldest likes to point out all the words that come tumbling out of my mouth somewhat mixed up. So I tell him ‘that’ll be do’ (meaning ‘that’s enough/ok), a phrase my younger brother coined when he was a toddler that the family still uses regularly- he’s 24 now πŸ™‚

  13. Jennifer says:

    Woo hoo!!! We are parents!! Thanks for all the late nights with oreos and the something fun to read while we were in the hospital. My husband and I love you guys. Congrats on all your fantastic success.

  14. Melissa says:

    Too funny!! Reading the comments made me laugh so hard I had big, fat tears rolling down my face and I may have wee’d my pants a little bit! What a way to end my night. Thank god for all of you! πŸ™‚

  15. buffi says:

    Or, once they catch on to spelling, we used code words like “traveling to the aquatic center” instead of going to the pool, or “consuming frozen dairy products” instead of getting ice cream, or “attempting to achieve hibernation mode” instead of putting the kids to bed. Anything to stave off a possible freak out!

    • Andy says:

      YEEEESSSS!!! I use vocabulary encryption as well!

      “It is dubious that the parties present have any probability of bestowing the local cinematic display establishment with their personages on the marrow.”

      “We’re probably not going to the movies tomorrow.” (but I don’t want the kids to know so they don’t piss and moan about it.)

      • Megan says:

        Even as young as ours are, we don’t dare speak of such things as pacifiers or juice, they are child silencing devices and child hydration devices.

  16. Erich says:

    I’ve started to use the same words as my 2 1/2 year-old daughter. I don’t even seem to mind anymore.

  17. Nichole says:

    There is another dialect of parentese that fortunately is less permanent: Babyese. When your children are 0 to a year old, and you speak like this: “Have you seen poop buckets paci? Aw look at the teeny wittle {object}.” You also become a third person when speaking: “Mommy’s going to get a bathy! yea!” All in that little sing-song voice.
    I need a break from my 4 month old twins, because I do this ALL the TIME and it can be a bit… sad in public. lol

  18. Corissa says:

    I try my very best to avoid these! I even correct myself often! The problem with parentese? I have seen the damage it does! I have a neice who couldn’t even use the word “she” (amond many others) correctly untill almost 5 years old! Her parents and grandparents all spoke this strange language around her. I now know it as parentese. They even talk to my daughter like that. “Shes is eatin’ them up!” “No hers ain’t not.” “Her is adorable.” The examples could go on forever. I try my very best to talk to my baby like a person so she won’t go to kindergarden sounding like a “drunk rap star reciting Yoda quotes in Pig Latin.”

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