Huffpost Weird News

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tony Phillips Headshot

English Lacks Vocabulary for Safe Discussion of Stepchildren

Posted: Updated:

English, in all its richness and intricacy, includes no safe vocabulary for talking about one's stepchildren, not, at any rate, if one is talking about one's stepchildren to their mother. Ours is a beautifully ornate language replete with many a flourish borrowed from many an exotic tongue. Among the world's major languages, none surpasses ours in its capacity to connote and convey nuances, fine-grained distinctions and subtleties -- the sorts of linguistic trickeration that help us avoid conflict while resolving disagreements about touchy subjects. We can exploit rhetorical devices and accomplish persuasive purposes across cultures, across genders, across generations and across vast oceans, but we can't do it when it comes to the stepkids. That's a fact and if you don't believe me, try saying this to your wife:

"Honey, It's not that I don't love your kids; I just don't love them the same as I love mine."

NO! Don't really say that. I wish this warning weren't necessary but I've learned of late that the irony deficiency of some readers just can't be overestimated. If you're a man then you, like me, are stupid as hell and you've probably been wanting to say something stupid like that for a long time and before you do, trust me. I use English for a living and I assure you, as a language it's not designed to talk about stepkids.

My wife and I have three daughters, two of whom live on their own (thank God) and one of whom still lives with us. Again, I'm an English-using professional and I assure you, if you get started talking about your stepkids in English, here's how it will go:

You: "Honey, I'm just saying that how I love my child is different from how I love yours."

Her: "Why would you even refer to them as 'yours' and 'mine?' I call them 'ours.'"

You: "Well that's just quibbling over semantics . . ."

Her: "I beg your pardon . . . Are you suggesting that what I will and will not accept from you when speaking about my child is semantic quibbling?"

You: "Well no, not exactly. I'm just saying . . ."

Her: "Please don't even say it. I know what you're thinking and I'm asking you, seriously, please don't say it."

You: "Well god damn it, woman! Why can't I ever express myself?'

Her: "Fine. Go ahead."

You: "It's just that my child doesn't bother me the way yours does . . ."

See, the problem is, if you're a man at least, you're just stupid enough to say something like that and if you do, don't blame me if you wake up and find your man hammer in the disposal. You deserve it.

Here's an actual conversation that occurred in my house recently:

Me: "Why does it always have to be wherever I want to be?"

Her: "What are you talking about?"

Me: "That kid. Why's it always wherever I want to be whenever I want to be there?"

Her: "Are you referring to our daughter?"

Me: "I'm talking about the one that lives here. Why does is it have to be here all the damn time?"

I'm sure you can see what I mean about English and its lack of precision when it comes to discussions of stepchildren. Whereas other languages no doubt include accurate pronouns to denote a stepchild as the object of a proposition, in English, all one has is the third-person singular neuter 'it.' Moreover, while many languages include terms to denote general spatial concepts like "hereness," in English the best we have is "wherever-I-might-like-to-be-at-a-given-moment-and-not-have-a-child-there," which is quite a mouthful as abstract nouns go.

In some languages one could say, essentially, "The [stepchild]'s propensity for being in the [hereness] I occupy [conditionally] is [for me] a consternation for which [I] blame [nobody] but instead merely observe [the fact that] there are too many people in my space and [that] the stepchild is one of them [but I love her just as much as I love my own child]."

English just won't permit such utterances. The closest thing we can say is, "Why can't it play outside?!"

I don't usually appeal to my own authority, but in this case, I hope you can just believe me. There's no need to try this out yourself. Learn from my experience and trust me when I tell you, as a stepfather and a professional user of English: Don't talk about your stepkids to their mother. Period. Not in English, anyway. If you do, you'll have a disaster bigger than all outside. It's your choice, but you've been warned.