Sign Language

One of my spawn’s many endearing qualities is that he generally, as here with his new friend Solène, looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

So you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to have created his own – hem! – innovative variations on the standard divers’ sign language.

Now, as you’d expect in a branch of the teaching profession so rarefied that students quite often attempt to kill not only themselves but their tutors, diving instructors already have quite a few obscene variations on this theme.

Such as: “You! Look. At me! Your FACE. Makes me SICK!” Or: “You! Look. At me! YOU are f

ed. You are TOTALLY f


As you may also imagine, this is the sort of expressive language which sticks in the mind of a nine-year-old boy.

So when Z and I piled onto a dive boat, populated predominantly by big lads fresh back from Afghan (there are a LOT of Brits on Koh Tao), and his instructor yelled out, “Mind your language! There’s a child on board the boat!” my first thought was, “Aw, BLESS!”

My second? “That poor man is not going to know what hits him.”

Actually, Z’s instructor did an amazing job. For someone “without a parental bone in my body” and “absolutely no knowledge of children”, he genuinely really enjoyed teaching Z.

Which makes the sign language episode, well, a little sad, really.

It’s a funny thing, swearing.

I once worked as a temp on a building site for an office fit-out company. (Temp controller: “It’s a LOVELY firm! An interior design company, based in St. James’s.” 22-year-old me: “Do you think they can do £11.50 per hour rather than £11, then?”)

So I would sit in the Portakabin. Doing temp-like things such as audio-typing letters (from a tape machine worked with a treadle, like a sewing machine) and photocopying “subbies’ lists”.

Also untemp-like things such as correcting I/me/myself or comma/full-stop confusions and removing grocer’s apostrophes when I typed up the letters. (The boss would then firmly put them back in in biro.)

And the blokes on site, the identical, self-same blokes who would have been hooting, whistling and yelling creative pleasantries had I walked past their scaffolding in mufti, would come into the Portakabin.

They would look, in horror, at this delicate flower in their midst. And say, very solemnly, “Mind your language! Ladies present.”

And they meant it! It would have been the very height of bad manners to treat me as anything other than a lady. A person in front of whom one does not swear.

Anywise. Eventually the inevitable happened. I dropped something. I swore.

You could have heard a pin drop…

The older chaps could hardly have been more horrified had I undone my overcoat, whipped up my skirt, pulled down both pairs of tights (it was pretty damn chilly in that Portakabin) and photocopied my arse instead of the snag lists.

And so, back to Z, and divers’ sign language. We were relaxing over breakfast with Z’s instructor, Z filling out his logbook by writing down names of fish he had seen from a spotter’s guide. Looking, I think, almost as angelic as he and Solène do here.

Z has, by now, been a panicking diver for the large chaps doing the rescue diver course, dived off the back of the big boat with the big boys and towed his instructor 25 metres, so feels very much like one of the lads.

Relaxed, at ease, and one of the gang, he decides that now is a good time to demonstrate his innovative additions to the canon of divers’ sign language.

His first two — “You! Look. At me! You. Are screwed!” “You! Look. At me! You. Are TOTALLY screwed!” — go down, well, not exactly OK, but marginally better than a cup of cold sick. (It helps that he mimes opening a bottle with a corkscrew rather than something more, erm, etymologically and anatomically à point.)

Then Z pulls out his pièce de résistance. It involves a lighter. Some below waist pointing. And signs for You, I and Not.

His poor instructor is turning pale. “Can you guess what it means?” Z asks.

The chap shakes his head in silent horror.

“It means,” my little boy says, proudly. “I. Wouldn’t. Piss on. You. If you were on Fire.”

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6 Responses

  1. Snap says:

    You must be as proud of yours as I am of mine 🙂 Kids, they never fail to amuse, shock and impress.

  2. Tammy says:

    It may not be the done thing but I can’t help but laugh and even feel oddly proud of your Z.

    My nearly two year old swore for the first time last week. It’s been a few months since I’ve used certain phrases – when I realised his speech was coming on rather well. He still uses “oh dear” for most mishaps so I was a bit shocked when he suddenly said, “oh for [email protected]*k’s sake” while playing with something that wasn’t working. Shocked and then impressed that he’d stored it away and used it in the correct context. Since then he’s also started saying sh*t. It’s bad but I can’t help but laugh when he does it.

    • MummyT says:

      I’m with you on the “slight pride” thing. I think, with early talkers with a large vocabulary, the key thing is context and audience. Not at school. Not in front of his great-grandmother. And I’d be horrified if he swore aggressively. But, sometimes appropriately used obscenity is genuinely funny…

  3. Kerri says:

    Bit late on replying here, but this is just fantastic. As @Mummy T said about early talkers (Ellie was speaking basic Spanish before she said anything other than ‘mummy’ in english) they have a wide and varied vocab. She was about 3 one morning, when I got up before her for work and snuck downstairs for a shower. I was bringing a coffee back up the stairs when she screamed at me from her room and I threw the contents of my coffee up the stairs. “[email protected] your pants, mummy?!” she said. She was delighted she had scared the living daylights out of me.

    Generally she doesn’t swear; as far as she’s concerned it’s for adults. I’m pretty confident she wouldn’t swear at other kids, teachers and nanny. Although that doesn’t stop her now at 6 years old, from telling me to ‘stop bitchificating’.

    • Theodora says:

      Z swears around me. But not around other children. Even on a rollercoaster, where both adults involved were screaming “F*********ck”, he managed not to because other children were involved. I think context is all, really. And glad you related….