Holophrases: Out of the mouths of babes


Chatting with Ben is…interesting. In the development/language acquisition circles, he’s big into “holophrases”, or single words that stand for whole sentences. Unfortunately, holophrases are often misinterpreted, especially when you’re not using the right word for the phrase you would like to express. Here is an example of tonight’s bedtime convo:

Scene: A small bedroom in a Mid-Atlantic home. A mother is preparing her young son for bed.

Ben: (Holding out lotion) ‘Sage?

Me: No massage tonight.

Ben: Daddy?

Me: No, Daddy’s still at work.

Ben: Shirt?

Me: Let’s put your shirt on and go to bed.

Ben: (Something in Parseltongue)

Me: Would you like to read a book?

Ben: Book?!

Me: Yes. Which book would you like?

Ben: Truck! (Meaning The Little Blue Truck, which is one of our favorites)

Me: Ok, come sit by Mommy and we’ll read Truck.

Ben: No! (flings milk) Oh no! Milk!

Me: It’s ok. We’ll clean it up.

Ben: Oh no! Oh no!

Me: Ben, it’s ok. We have more milk.

Ben: Milk?!

Me: Yes, milk.

Ben: No! (Small temper tantrum and uncertainty about whether he wanted to sit on my lap while reading the book, on his rocking chair, or on the floor while reading the book)

Me: Ben, do you just want to go to bed?

Ben: (While pointing at the bed.) Monkey. (His favorite stuffed animal) Bed.

Me: Let’s go to bed.

Ben: (Nods.) Bed.

End scene

Holophrases, while useful in expressing some needs, can be challenging when you know there are words to express your needs, you just don’t have them.

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