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posted: 10/3/2012 5:47 AM

Dad's the name; vocabulary is the game

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By Kent McDill

My father had a trick he used on my sisters and me as we were growing up. It was an attempt to improve our vocabulary. We hated it.

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He would go out of his way, very occasionally, to use a word in conversation that was possibly a stretch for us, vocabularily speaking. He would make sure it was a word we really needed to understand if we were going to understand the conversation. If we didn't ask him to tell us what the word meant, he would plow on through.

He used that ploy on us from early on. Eventually we caught on and rolled our eyes when it was obvious he was using us as guinea pigs, but we all admitted later the trick worked.

I wasn't so devious as I went about raising our children, but I certainly went out of the way to talk to them in an adult manner as soon as it seemed appropriate. And it worked, too. I have to say I am quite proud of all four of our children for the way they express themselves.

That is not to say my kids don't say "you know" and "like" too often. But then again, almost all of the athletes I have interviewed as a sports writer have had the same problem, and they are all millionaires, so it's hard to argue against it.

So I will argue against two other words my kids used all of the time, and I really wish they would stop.

The first word is "awkward." Everything, and I do mean everything, is "awkward."

Any time I am required to speak to another adult in their presence, and heaven forbid if it's the parent of a schoolmate, the moment is awkward. Any time I have to raise my voice to get proper service, and the kids are there to witness, the moment is awkward.

Truth be told, it's not so much the word I hate as it is its meaning when my kids use it. To them, it means "embarrassing" and they are embarrassed every time I have interaction with just about anybody anywhere.

Quick story: I went to visit my daughter Haley at the University of Missouri last weekend, and I participated in a golf outing. I had brought my necessary paperwork, but couldn't find it to sign up, so I had to go talk to one of the event organizers. It was no big deal, but Haley was SO upset, because it was just so "awkward."

From early childhood, any time the kids were signed up for team sports or after school groups or any other social activity, that first day in which you have to introduce yourself and your child to the group or team leader, it was just so "awkward." "Dad, do you have to talk to him? It's so awkward." "Dad, don't do that; it's so awkward." "Dad, can we leave? This is so awkward."

In terms of learning and growing, I think being able to handle awkward moments is the key to maturation. There are bumps in the road in nearly everything you do; transactions, conversations, scheduling, planning -- they are all equipped with possible awkward moments. Murphy's Law says life is all about awkward moments. You have to plow through them, not get all squeamish and withdraw from them.

So let's move on to the other word. The word is "literally."

I'm stealing someone else's line here, but my kids literally have no idea what "literally" means. If they did, they wouldn't use it this way:

"I think there were literally a million misquotes flying around me." A million? That's a lot.

"I must have been hiccupping for literally three days." Wow. You think I would have noticed.

The fun fact about "literally" is that although all four of my children use it incorrectly, all four of them are quick to point it out when their siblings use it incorrectly. So I guess they do know the meaning; they just choose to ignore it occasionally.

Child One: "You have been in the bathroom for literally three hours."

Child Two: "Really? Three hours? Three hours ago we were having dinner. I was there. So I could not have been in the shower for literally three hours."

I hate that. Do unto others, you know?

However, when my kids use words like "awkward" or "literally," at least I know what they are talking about. When they say things like "cray-cray" (it means crazy) or use acronyms for virtually everything, that gets annoying. My daughter Lindsey has even invented words, like her current favorite -- kuju -- which I have come to learn means OK.

Not understanding your kids conversations can lead to some awkward moments. Literally.

• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.

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