Grenouille was officially diagnosed at around 2 1/2 as having a severe language impairment. From the outset, G’s receptive language has been way ahead of speech production. Listening to stories has always been a favourite activity, and G has a remarkably wide vocabulary, but still finds some talk dealing with abstract concepts baffling. G prefers to focus on the concrete and the practical, and has no patience with the unnecessarily high-faluting, considering it a waste of time and breath. An adult indulging in persiflage will be slapped with a stern, dark-blue stare from under drawn brows, and the flat question, “Wassat s’posed to mean?” And after whatever-it-is has been conveyed to G in plain terms, the even sterner question follows: “Whyn’t you ‘splain it p’operly first time?”
After a decade of intensive speech therapy, G’s utterances remain difficult for some people to follow until they become familiar with the idiosyncrasies of cadence and construction. In spite – or perhaps because – of the difficulties that G has in producing long sentences, what comes out is often almost poetically economical and inventively fresh.
Today’s Monday-morning breakfast table was enlivened, after a half-term week of wearing comfy jammies and slouchy trackie bottoms, by G getting up and treating us to a hip-wiggling dance, accompanied by pulling and plucking at the school uniform’s sharply-tailored nether garments.
“What on earth is the matter, G?”
“Pulled my pants and trousers up too tight. They’re gypping me with wedgies.”
For some things, however, G prefers to use a brief, one-size-fits-all response. To those who use their brains for context, as well as their ears for sound when listening, it means a lot more than the single word (or lone syllable) conveys in isolation.
For example… well, here’s an extract from Southern Health’s September 2014 minutes:
‘7.19 Simon Waugh observed that the Trust had previously reported good progress in relation to reducing out of area bed usage, and queried the reasons for the recent deterioration. Lesley Stevens, Director for Mental Health & Learning Disabilities, noted that this was a multi-faceted issue, but that there was significant focus on working through various solutions.’ (My italics).
I had been fizzing about the pointless platitudinousness of this and decided this afternoon to run it by G. It took some explaining of the Chairman’s question: what ‘out-of-area beds’ were and why it was important to the Trust to keep the use of such beds as low as possible, but G understood that having to buy space in a place far away would be expensive (“like staying in a hotel when we go away on holiday?”) – a major concern for Sloven if paragraphs 7.21 and 7.22 are anything to go by – and could think of reasons why people would not want to be further from home than they had to (“like when I was in Admitting Hospital and Papa and E could only visit every other day because it was so far?”).
So then we tackled the Director’s response, and here we came utterly unstuck. I could explain the meaning of each word so that G could understand it, but string them together and the overall meaning of the statement remained a big, fat zero.
“Wassat s’posed to mean?” said G, scowling.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “What do you think it means?”
G frowned even more ferociously. “Means nothing.”
“And what do you think of somebody giving a nothing answer to an important question?” I said, pretty sure of what the answer was going to be.
Indeed, sweetheart. The sort that gyp you with wedgies.