Sunday, January 27, 2013

The human google

Why do kids think, with the absolute certainty that belongs to the midgeroo set, that their parents can always correctly answer "What does ______ mean?" It's like the finals of a mad lib tournament and the pressure is on.

When you think about it, it seems like an adult would have no problem defining everyday words. Today the pop quiz on the way to church was, "What does CONVENIENT mean?"

Think about that for a second. You know what convenient means. You can use it in a sentence. You can spell it. You can quickly list multiple variations of the word: convenient, inconvenient, convenience, conveniently, etc., etc. But I dare you to properly define it without Webster.

I distinctly remember asking this question of my dad countless times. And I also remember the same answer, countless times: "Go look it up." I think about that every time one of my kids asks me what a word means. For some reason, though, I never tell them to look it up. I think I'm robbing them of an excellent learning opportunity. I can remember with total clarity the bookshelf above the TV in my parents' house with the faded red binder of the dictionary that I thumbed through with regularity.

So when Caroline asked "What does convenient mean?" and I responded with my best effort, it just didn't seem adequate. Out comes the iPhone. Hello, Webster Dictionary app. Problem solved, even though John proclaimed that I cheated. I knew this was a test.

At least those questions have an answer. On the way home from church today Caroline asked: "Which is faster: smaller or bigger?"

I don't think even Google would have an answer to that one.

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