Column: Let’s talk baby talk


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

My wife and I welcomed our third baby last week. Our baby boy is happy and healthy; his parents are happy and tired. Please send caffeine.

During the nightly brain fog induced by our new “feed-change-cuddle-repeat” cycle, I’ve been thinking about a few baby-related language rules. Please excuse me if any spit-up gets on this column.

Is “baby” ever a proper noun? Unless your stage name is DaBaby, the short answer is “no.” Baby is a common noun, just the same as lamp, tree and stroller are common nouns. The only instance in which “baby” becomes proper is when the word is used as a name. For instance, “Baby Sinclair” is the name of a character from the early 1990s sitcom “Dinosaurs.”

How do you express something a baby owns or possesses (other than my heart when he wraps his perfect, tiny fingers around my pinky)? That certainly depends on the context.

If one baby owns a thing or things, use “baby’s”: My baby’s pacifier got lost in his car seat. That baby’s lung capacity is exceptional.

The word “babies” on its own indicates more than one baby: The babies went through an entire crate of diapers last week. As a child, I enjoyed the cartoon “Muppet Babies.” Those politicians are acting like a bunch of babies.

When multiple babies possess or own a thing or multiple things, use babies’: The babies’ strollers each got a new neon green paint job. The babies’ father had his hands full when each of the triplets started crying at the same time.

According to a March 2020 article published by the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Current Biology,” 8-month-old babies have a basic understanding of their native language. While they still can’t speak in full sentences, babies’ brains can distinguish between the linguistic categories of basic articles, pronouns, prepositions, verbs, adjectives, and context-specific content words like “dog” and “rainbow.” This means that good grammar matters even for babies!

It’s a daunting task to take on the responsibility for a new life, especially given the various levels of disarray in our nation and world. I do take solace, however, that my baby’s first word will no doubt be uttered in honor of his favorite absolute person in the entire world: mama.