Kids say the darndest things – Why?

What can we learn from kids’ expressions?

They say kids say the darndest things, and you have to wonder; Why? One reason is that humans develop all their language skills – phonology, semantics, grammar and pragmatics – by the time they reach ages 6 to 10. After that, a person’s language ego is established: the learner or user is aware of the limitations and boundaries of language they are using; for example, the difference among the sounds and pronunciation of their mother tongue, and the reaction they get when you communicate. At this stage a person’s sense of identity is tied up with the way they use language.

Your language ego limits you

If you were raised in the inner city, you would express yourself in inner-city slang and be categorized as someone from there. If you were raised in a middle-class home, you would sound like that and be recognized as someone middle-class, or Texan, or from New Delhi, or from London, etc. The acquired “native-like” pronunciation of their mother tongue is tied up to every person’s sense of identity. Language is an expression of a person’s thoughts, and their thoughts are part of their identity. (I think , therefore I am). This being the case, if one tries to learn another language after your teenage years, it is very difficult to start thinking in the new language and to speak as freely and directly as in your mother tongue, or with the same pronunciation. Some English teaching methodologies have ways to circumvent the language ego.

But, the fact remains, that children and people in their teens still have some flexibility left in their language development – they are not set in a language ego rut – yet. Where does that leave people who work in marketing communications?

Original language  = original thinking

Which is why kids say the darndest things. They have not read enough or spoken enough, or become conditioned to expressing themselves like their peers, colleagues, family or employers. They say what they see, in their own “unformed” idiom or idiolect. The result: wonderful, funny expressions, original gems, sharp observations. Not always appropriate or expected, but definitely reflecting the world through their youthful eyes. If I were a teacher, I’d give the expressions, below, credits for creativity, not fails, if they were original. Authors, as adults, have to try long and hard to regain their pre-school-conditioned creativity. Kids are naturally creative,  however, teachers need to have the insight to recognize this.

Escape the hackneyed language of adults

If only adults could get away from their hackneyed phrases, clichés, boring CEO-speak and dull, bullet-pointed documents when they do marketing. How refreshing – and appealing  it is to occasionally discover a really well-written, witty piece of marketing.

Just telling the story in an actual human’s individual “voice” rather than some copied and pasted standard text gets the viewer or reader’s attention and helps  them connect to the product or service.  Even in writing proposals – keeping someone’s individual voice in the text – their style, emphases and expressions – is crucial to make the proposal read well. After all, people propose to people, people buy from people, not from faceless organizations.

21 Expressions by teenagers

These are reportedly actual high school students came up with these analogies in their English essays. I found them quite amusing but, like urban legends, they have been passed around for years. I hope that there is a real grown-up out there who actually wrote one of these lines as a pimply teenager.

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  1. When she tried to sing, it sounded like a walrus giving birth to farm equipment.
  2. Her eyes twinkled, like the moustache of a man with a cold.
  3. She was a magnet – attractive from the back, repulsive from the front.
  4. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  5. She grew on him like she was a colony of E.Coli and he was room temperature Canadian beef.
  6. She had him like a toenail stuck in a shag carpet.
  7. The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.
  8. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  9. Her eyes were like the stars, not because they twinkle, but because they were so far apart.
  10. His career was blowing up like a man with a broken metal detector walking through a minefield.
  11. The sun was below the watery horizon, like an arthritic grandma easing into a warm salt bath.
  12. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 pm instead of 7:30.
  13. It was as easy as taking candy from a diabetic man who no longer wishes to eat candy.
  14. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes before it throws up.
  15. Their love burned with the fiery intensity of a urinary tract infection.
  16. It’s basically an illusion but no different than if I were to imagine something else, like Batman riding a flying toaster.
  17. If it was any colder, it would be like being in a place that’s a little colder than it is here.
  18. Joy fills her heart like a silent but deadly fart fills a room with no windows.
  19. The bird flew gracefully into the air like a man stepping onto a landmine in zero gravity.
  20. He felt confused. As confused as a homeless man on house arrest.
  21. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

Sometimes you can see their frame of reference is quite media-derived, and the tone of the metaphor or simile’s parts do not always match, and sometimes the expression just states the obvious. (And of course sometimes they just don’t get the horribleness of the comparison – the landmines for instance.) The result is a bit ridiculous, a style like a cross between Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. But still, there’s many a poet who wishes they could express themselves so originally. Love like a urinary tract infection? Love hurts indeed.

And now for a witty ad

Here’s one where the agency folks had obviously let the kids inside themselves run wild: General Electric’s (GE) ad for the Link-connected LED lightbulb, starring Jeff Goldblum (and is that Keith Richards playing his wrinkly, badly-lit alter-ego?) Excellent acting, great script, and high production values from agency BBDO. Ha! Funny!

[Rtrvd.from Vimeo, 2016-06-07]

Client: GE
Spot: “Enhance Your Lighting”
Agency: BBDO, New York
Production Company: PrettyBird
Director: Tim and Eric (Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim)
Director of Photography: Andrew Wheeler
Postproduction Company: Prettybird
Editor: Kyle Brown
Executive Producer: Kerstin Emhoff
Producer: Karl Reid

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