Cat Got Your Tongue?

“What did you say?”

“Thingy? Just put the thingy over there!” I felt my face heat up. Oh gosh, what was the word? What was it called?!

“Haha, that’s ridiculous, it’s called a wrench.”

“I knew that…kindof.” I bow my head. I should’ve known that… If I just had more time.

Everyone is different in the ways they convey themselves. Speech, writing, even little sayings, not one person uses words the same way. However, some people have trouble thinking of words all together, and one of those people is me.

Words in writing and advanced speech is a slippery slope and often take a while to fully grasp. Know that ‘it’s on the tip of my tongue feeling’? Imagine it happening twice as much and you’ll get more of an idea of people like me who find it difficult to convey what they truly think through words.

Over the years you learn and begin to grasp words more easily, they now appear instead of you having to heave them out of the murky water of your mind. Writing becomes more fun as you see all your work in one solid form. Those muddy thoughts can become clearer with just a little more concentration and more time. Writing is easier now, so much so, however, speaking the words you want to say doesn’t always work the way you want it to.

“Would anyone like to answer why plants grow?” My third grade teacher asked. I looked around the classroom and not a single soul moved. I looked back over to my teacher and she was staring right back at me.

“How about you Zoë!” Her eyes were begging me to say something as I fully understood the material based on my homework grade.

“Um. Well sunlight is, um, what’s the word? Soaked up through the leaves…” I was cut off by a boy sitting two rows in front of me.

“Like a sponge?!”

“Uh, no, well kinda, like the leaf takes it in and stuff happens and…”

“So like food! I never knew plants could eat light!”

“N… no. Plants don’t ‘eat’. They um...” I looked to my teacher with a look that clearly read “Help me!”

“I think what Zoë is trying to say is that plants have special cells that absorb light and turn it into energy.”

“Oooooo!” The whole class understood finally after I caused all the confusion. I was upset at myself for not thinking of the right word, absorb.

Over time I read more and more and vocabulary started to finally stick. I learned of the great book called the thesaurus and would use it whenever I was stuck. However I find myself reverting to my younger behaviors when I can not think of a specific word.

Thingy is my most popular choice. If something makes a noise, like a power tool, I mock the noise.

“Can I use the, um, ‘wer wer’ thingy please?”

Or simply when I am learning a whole new subject, it takes time for me to fully remember the vocabulary.

Now it’s not that I don’t understand what a word means and that’s why I get stuck, no. It’s this infuriating feeling when you know the word, you know the definition, but the word itself is not presenting itself to you.

This often happens a lot when talking about my feelings or emotions.

“How was your day today?”


“Just fine…?”

“Well, yeah…”

When I am surrounded by people I respect and want to display my skills off, I try to push the mucky forgetfulness away. I use a type a language I consider the ‘proper way’. I try to use a higher vocabulary and try to say what I am thinking or want. If I get stuck I replace the word that I want to say with an easy replacement. And I push through the conversation and never use my childhood words of ‘thingy’ or ‘thingamabob’.

When I am surrounded by friends and family, that tense air drops and I am not as guarded. I make up words as substitutes and not always use the easy synonyms I know. When I get stuck I ask my friends for help, because I am comfortable and not trying to impress them.

Usually when I revert to this old habit I’m called childish or cute, which I have mixed feelings about. Sure my speech might sound childish and I used it since I was young, but I am trying to adapt and speak on things I am not an expert on; I am trying to have grown up conversations. I get really frustrated when someone won’t take me seriously because I am struggling with my sentence structures or word choice.

As James Baldwin states, “It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument means and proof of power.” When it’s hard for me to rediscover new words I’m seen as someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I’m innocent, a child in their eyes, which isn’t true at all. People who view my language habits as below them often think they are the highest, or very powerful individuals. They often use their knowledge of words and put together points and elaborate pieces that sometimes don’t have an interesting or overarching plot. Having a better memory and knowledge of words doesn’t just automatically make your content strong. Now I’m not arguing whether or not how your knowledge of words make you seem more advanced, but it’s how you use them in certain contexts.

Gloria Anzaldúa states “... so, if you want to really hurt me, talk badly about my language.” People assume and people judge, it’s part of human nature. Sometimes it’s really insulting and sometimes it is a small comment. However language seems to be a really prickly subject when it comes to these judgements. For example, I have a hard time conveying myself in words and seem distant or unfeeling sometimes. Just because I don’t know how to convey something doesn’t mean I don’t feel or know about it. How you convey something is really based on who you are. How you access a person also depends on your mood and how you’re feeling. All in all, language isn’t just an organized type of speech shared between groups of people, but it is also how you define and show yourself to other people.

Comments (6)

Sarith Chuon (Student 2018)
Sarith Chuon

I learned more than I did already, I didn't know about the "Thingy" part in all honesty. I like the way you was able to use both the anecdote and reflections to show how difficult it was with your speaking, and I think the placing of them was great. I'll remember that you are a friend, and I won't care what or how you say something.

Ethan Halprin (Student 2018)
Ethan Halprin
  1. I didn't know all your thoughts about when you say, "thingy" and didn't realize why. Hopefully you improve and/or you become more confident and do not feel insecure about it.
  2. You used anecdotes and reflections well to show your difficulties with speaking. They were well placed throughout the essay.
  3. I will remember what you said about people thinking they are better or higher up based off the way they speak the most.
Tia Roberts (Student 2018)
Tia Roberts
  1. I never knew you had trouble getting you points across, I understand what you mean though. Whenever it seems like you have something to say, the words come to your head but just cant seem to transport out you mouth.

  2. I really liked your backstory with the 3rd grade teacher and stuff and your quote in the last paragraph really was excellent. You perfectly explained yourself and had a very strong argument.

  3. One thing I will always remember is that language is defined in so many types of way, even if you can say it.

Jessica Guarino (Student 2018)
Jessica Guarino

I learned that Zoë had trouble saying what she wanted to say, even though she knew what she wanted to say. She reflects on her own experiences by using quotes to help others understand her. I will remember her last 2 paragraphs because they are easy to relate to and they show her understanding of language.

Mackenzie Harrington (Student 2018)
Mackenzie Harrington

Wow, I didn't know that you were so worried about trying to find words to speak. Its okay, there is nothing wrong with that. Every human of everyday have trouble finding words when they speak out loud. I'm not saying its not a big deal, because it is. We all feel embarrassed and frustrated when we cant find the right words. But its a good thing that you admit it and try really hard. Your anecdotes are on point, and I liked how you described the feel around you and the movements others were making. I could see the setting better. Great story!

Christopher Irwin-Diehl (Student 2018)
Christopher Irwin-Diehl

I learned that Zoë sometimes has trouble figuring out what she's trying to say. Actually, that's not right. She knows exactly what she's trying to say, but she can't say it. There's sometimes this disconnect between what she's thinking and the word for it, and she struggles to maintain her composure while attempting to repair the connection. I'll try to keep this in mind when other people are having trouble finding the right word; it can be frustrating when you are trying desperately to express your thoughts but can't quite get it, especially when it happens often. Anyways, good job Zoë! ;)