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Toddler words for breastfeeding, in Babble’s Jabberwocky column

My friend Dan Weinstein and I went to grad school together, and we’re both dictionary-licking, English-major, word-nuts. Dan – now an Associate Professor of English at Dakota State University – often emails me with tales of his son Koan’s verbal adventures. Here’s an old one:

You’ll never guess what Koan said today. We were in the bathroom, after his bath, and he was toweling his head. Suddenly he dropped the towel.

“Oh,” I said. “You dropped your towel.”

“Drop towel,” Koan said. “Sorry, towel.”

Then he said something that really blew me away. Still standing naked in the bathroom, the kid looks me in the eye and says, as calmly and distinctly as you please, “Myself, Koan.”

A later story involved a sidewalk boo-boo and the thoughtful words “Sorry, knee.” In Zen Buddhism, a koan is a meditation tool, an unanswerable question like “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”, and this boy was definitely living up to his Yoda-esque name with his enlightening one-liners. In addition to the hilarious apologies, Koey made some memorable associations, as described by Dan: “When he pooped in the bathtub last night, he had no idea what to call what came out of him, so estranged is my diaper-wearing son from his own excrement. Instead of crying, ‘Poop!’, he exclaimed, rather oddly, yet quite reasonably, ‘Brown shoe!’”

At some point, Dan sent the following story: “Koan has decided that it’s funny to say,’More bookie,’ after the manner of Ed McMahon announcing, ‘Here’s Johnny.’ ‘More bookie,’ is Koan’s phrase for ‘More milk from Mommy’s wonderful dispensers.’ He’s milking this two-word routine for all it’s worth.” That Mommy is Jess Nathanson – co-editor with Laura Tuley of the forthcoming Mother Knows Best: Talking Back to the “Experts” – who remembers the origin of “bookie”: “Koan must have been less than a year old, because what happened was that I’d say ‘milky’ – thinking that would, as he got older, be socially acceptable in a way that asking for ‘breast’ or ‘mommy milk’ or ‘nurse’ would not. But he couldn’t quite say ‘milky,’ so he said ‘bookie.’”

Though I find Koey – and the word “bookie” – singularly adorable, there isn’t anything unique about kids making up their own terms for breastfeeding. It’s a small-but-amusing area of language that might surprise anyone who doesn’t realize that toddler breastfeeding is healthy and common.

For a huge assortment of bookie-like words, check the dictionary at Jane’s Breastfeeding Resources, where mothers contributed such memorable names as “noopy sip mama,” “naaacks” (a clipped and elongated form of “snacks”), “gluggie,” and “eating from the chest.” Breastfeeding supporter and word-collector Jane Neesam of Hertfordshire, England knows her topic well: “Our third and youngest daughter (now eight and definitely not feeding anymore!) was the original inspiration; she called feeding ‘bucky.’ I’m not sure how this developed; it could have been her own word for ‘milky,’ which I think I’d been using, and when she started to speak at around twelve months, it was ‘bucky.’ Of course we loved the name so much the whole family continued to use it in that context, and we still do when we see other babies feeding . . . or lambs, piglets, meercats, etc. Our second daughter referred to it as ‘tea.’ Again, I’m not sure why!”

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