Month: July 2015

Hair of the Dog


If you read the previous entry, you know about how excited I was to hear my dog’s laughter.  If you didn’t, you’re probably confounded by that last statement.  It gets me thinking about the evolution of language and about where words come from in the first place.  And about why some words are considered dirty.

Mom.  Mother.  Matron.  Matriarch.  Grandma.  Mama.  Ma’am.  Woman.  Ooma.  There’s something about that mah sound that just sounds right when talking about your old lady, right?  It starts with the hum of a lullaby and then continues with the gentlest of vowel sounds.

It’s not just English either.  Almost every language uses that same sound to label dear old mom.  Check out this list for a ton of examples.

Not hard to see where a word like mom comes from.  It is, after all, the most common first word in the history of language.  Mah mah!

For something a bit more . . . challenging? imagine that you’ve just been involved in an accident, and you look down at the newly blooming road rash on your arm.  There’s a natural sharp intake of air.  Sounds like an inverted shhh.  And at times like this, you might utter sounds of frustration.  Not words yet, just hard consonants.  Kuh.  Dah.  Or tuh.

Let’s put those together now.

*sharp intake*  *harsh consonant*
Shhh. Tuh.

What does that sound like to you?  If you don’t get it right away, read it out loud.

Shhh.  Tuh.

And those sounds offend us.  If you are annoying me, I will shun you with that first sound.  Shhhhhhh.  And if you tick me off, I will growl and grunt those sweet gutteral tones.  Gah!  And that’s why a word that starts with fuh and ends with kah can offend soft sensibilities.

It’s crazy to think about, but at one time all words started from a purely phonetic sound.  Some words please us.  And some words offend, but they’re all from a universal place that ia common to the experience we all share on this planet.


Hearing My Dog’s Laughter

Jake (6)

It was one of those Aha! moments.  Dogs laugh.  The same way that chimps laugh.  The same way that rats laugh.  The same way that we laugh.

When I was a kid, I remember adults telling me that animals don’t talk.  That I was just imaging things.  Sure, they communicate in some ways, but complex speech?  No way.

Recent studies have identified languages in certain animals, meerkats for instance, that is so sophisticated that they can warn each other about very specific things.  Like that guy with brown hair that was carrying a gun the last time he was here.

This was revalatory for me.  You see, my imagination wasn’t a handicap, grandma.  It was the facilitator into empathy with the other creatures that inhabit this planet.  It helped me to be curious about what their lives must be like, and it was a similar curiosity that drove scientists to make incredible discoveries about animals.

Like that my dog laughs.

It isn’t as evolved as our ha ha’s and hee hee’s, but the ah ah ah sound your dog makes when he gets excited, that’s laughter.  He’s making that sound to distinguish his play fight from a real fight.  “We’re just having fun here,” he’s saying.  “So don’t use your teeth, okay?”

Of course, the monent I heard this, I decided to test out the theory.  You see, I am guilty of confusing my dog in the past, most notably an occassion when Jake looked at me in confusion during a wrestling match and then promptly bit me in the face.  It didn’t leave a mark, but he made his point.

Now, whenever I play with Jake, I mimic the sound of his play.  Ah ah ah.  And he is thrilled!

It got me thinking about certain universal sounds that we as humans make that go beyond laughter.  Some of these sounds have become so commonly used that we even classify them as words.

Ouch.  Oof.  Oh.  Oooh.  Shhh.  The sounds you make when you suck through your teeth when looking at a wound or blow through your lips to show you’re frustrated.  The moans and coos you make when you’re being sexy.

And then of course there’s the nonverbal communication too.  Your smile is a social gesture.  You do it when you’re happy, but you also do it when you’re uncomfortable.  When you’re angry, you grit your teeth.  In the animal kingdom, they show their teeth in all the same ways.

As a writer, I am in a romantic relationship with words, but there are certain sounds and gestures that I can only use when I  am acting.  It’s magical.  It’s beautiful.  And it is unique.  But not totally unique.

After all my dog laughs.

Oh, and trees make a noise when they’re thirsty.  It’s true.  Look it up.