Writer and mum-of-two Katie Gregory read this month’s Story Box book with her son, and the conversation took an unexpected turn…
‘Mummy, why are you saying the word dinosaur so funny?’ asked my little boy as we read this month’s Story Box book before bed.
The story, How The Dinosaur Got His Shoes, features a dino called Terrance Rex, who tries on a shoe shop’s worth of footwear until he finds a pair that fits just right. I think Terrance and I could be friends.
As we turned the pages of the book, the English words for certain things subtly moved into Spanish as usual: shoes became zapatos, yes became si, and counting went from one, two, three to uno, dos, tres.
But dinosaur was different. Because dinosaurio, apparently, just didn’t sound different enough.
‘You’re saying the first bit the same, but the end bit funny, so I can still work out what you’re saying Mum,’ he frowned. ‘I don’t think you’re reading it right.’
Unsure how best to approach a conversation about etymology with a five-year-old, I remembered a conversation with a friend, Joy Brodier, who moved from England to France.
Having spent 11 years there, learning French and teaching English, she noticed how many words were virtually the same in both languages. And so, she published a book of more than 350 French words – What’s French For Baguette? Baguette, Silly! – to help readers boost their French vocabulary without even trying.
Flicking through Joy’s book, I was surprised how many French words I already use day-to-day, from instantly understood words like bouffant and blasé, to words that are similar – ‘core’ isn’t a million miles away from the French coeur, for example, which means heart.
And, as I tried to explain to my son, the same applies to dinosaur. It’s dinosaur in English, dinosaurio in Spanish, and dinosaure in French, because they all come from the Greek words for ‘terrible lizard’, apparently (thank you, Google).
I could see the little cogs in his brain whirring and he asked me for more examples, eager for proof that dinosaur wasn’t a one-off.
‘It’s a bit like baguette’, I said confidently, thankful for the book. ‘We say baguette in English, and it’s a French word, too.’
He looked thoughtful for a minute. ‘Baguette… as in French stick?’
‘Yes!’ I smiled, ‘it’s actually a French word for a thin stick, so a baguette magique is a magic wand – I read all about it in a book…’
He grinned from ear to ear, satisfied that this was a good enough answer and he now knew a Very Cool Thing. And I was both chuffed with my explanation and relieved that he seemed to have run out of questions.
So, we carried on with the book.
It was only later that night, as he set off for bed in his PJs, that I realised we might need to revisit the etymology thing one day. It seems he’s taken what’s best described as ‘relaxed’ approach to the whole idea…
‘See you in the morning, Mum’, he called as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom.
‘I’m off to baguette – night night!’