Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The First Word is the Hardest.

First words are tricky things, both for the child and the parent.  For the child it is the moment that they introduce themselves.  This is what people are going to be talking about in twenty years time.  “Yes, well, my Johnny’s first word was kumquat, so beat that,” your parents will say in just one more attempt to keep up with the Joneses, (as everyone knows, Martha Jones’ first word was triceratops as she stood in the Natural History museum pointing out the spelling mistake to the curator.  We just can’t hope to keep up.)  First words stay with us, you really want them to be something big, something important, something Descartes would have been proud to have said, and let’s be honest, isn’t there a moment in all of our lives when we wish we’d been the first to say cogito ergo sum? Just me?  Oh well. 
It’s difficult for parents as well.  The big question of course is what exactly counts as a first word.  Our daughter was making a lot of noises, and whilst some of them could very well have been words (my knowledge of foreign languages only stretches to Ancient Greek and Latin, for neither of which we have any clear understanding as to how they were pronounced, so that doesn’t help a lot, although it would be nice to claim that my daughter was the first person in around 1500 years whose first word was amo) I very much doubt that that’s what she was aiming for.  So how do you know?  What distinguishing features come with a first word?  Does your child’s face suddenly shine?  Does she grow a foot taller.  Can you now expect her to be able to go to the shops and pick up a few things?  With a list, obviously.  I wouldn’t expect her to be able to remember everything.    Some people might say that they just knew, that it was clear.  That wasn’t quite the case with us.

For a long time I had wanted our daughter’s first word to be albumen.  Isn’t that a lovely word.  It sort of rolls around in your mouth.  Even if you had never seen it before just saying it would alert you to the fact that it was probably squidgy and sticky and something that would feel weird on your hand.  Albumen is the sort of word I imagine wine tasters to be saying as they swill their wine.  In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to see it crop up one day on a wine bottle label.  A sweet bouquet with hints of cinnamon, coffee and albumen.  Anyway, albumen was the word.  I can’t tell you how many times I whispered it into her ear, back in the days when she would just sit there happily, really, I can’t tell you, I have no idea how many it was.  Just assume it was lots, more than a hundred at least.  Albumen, albumen, albumen, albumen, say it enough and it loses all meaning.  It was not to be however. 

N’s first word happened in the garden.  She loved, and still loves going in the garden.  It’s pretty much her favourite place.  So it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it was in the garden that she decided to blurt it out.  The epoch shattering, universe condensing, particle colliding first word, the word that would define her existence and seal her destiny.  The word that would give us a clue as to her character and future job prospects.  It was an inauspicious moment.  It was a blustery day, and we had taken N out because she really likes the wind in her hair, what there was of it back then at least.  We had walked to the end of the garden and were admiring the fruit bushes and other things that had been planted when she said it.


Common or, quite literally, garden, pepper.  Not albumen.  Not even something that has an albumen.  Just pepper.  At least it was another foodstuff, though it’s harder to make a mousse with it.  It was quite distinctly pepper, not a word from another language, or just some noise, she looked directly at the pepper plant and said pepper.  It’s a very exciting moment when that happens.  Even just the word pepper felt pretty special to us, despite obviously not being.  It also doesn’t give us much of a clue as to where her future path lies.   Perhaps as a chef, perhaps as a cell microbiologist (though Heston Blumenthal may contend that the two are essentially the same thing) or possibly even a horticulturist.  She likes flowers, sometimes rather more than is good for her. 

Whatever happens pepper will always have been her first word, Although what I really think she was trying to do was explain to us Performance Evaluation Process Algebra.  Make sure you try out the link.  I learnt 20 new words just by reading it, although I’m still not confident I could use continuous-space analysis sensibly in a sentence.  I think I’m a bit slow for that stuff, never was much of a mathematician. 

As I said, first words are tricky things, what counts, what doesn’t.  What has just been dreamt up by the feverish mind of a parent who hasn’t slept in two days and thinks that their child has suddenly started reciting Tale of Two Cities.  All I know is that our child’s first word was pepper, and that’s good enough for me.


  1. I just want Anna to say Momo or Grandma.

  2. Yes, I was desperate for N to say dada, which came fairly soon after pepper I'm pleased to say!

  3. Isaac's first word was chocolate....can't think why!!!

    1. My son Daniel was 11lb 4oz at birth. His first word was 'gone', closely followed by 'more' - always in relation to food!