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David Shapiro
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By David Shapiro

Saturday, February 24, 2001

One little consonant
away from trouble

My 4-year-old grandson Corwin has added a word to his vocabulary that is causing me great anxiety. The word is "funking."

He first dropped it on me during our weekly drive over the Pali when I picked him up for his Sunday visit. He saw one of the new Volkswagen Beetles going the other way and said, "Look at that funking yellow car."

"What did you say?" I asked, not sure what I had heard.

"Funking," he said, drawing out the word with feeling.

I still wasn't sure what I had heard. I couldn't tell whether he intended "funky," which can mean "hip," "odd" or "quaint, " or the obvious alternative. I didn't know if I should pat him on his little head for being so cute or wash out his little mouth with soap. Or maybe it was his parents whose tonsils needed lathering.

I certainly didn't want to make an issue of it in a way that would arouse his curiosity about the second meaning if he meant the first. Maybe he just liked the sound of the word and didn't have any established meaning in mind.

I asked my wife what she thought, but she only shrugged. "Actually, I've never heard him say it," she said. "It must be one of those male bonding things between the two of you."

Then she took him on her Sunday pilgrimage to Longs and loaded him up with new toys in one of those grandma bonding things.

Upon their return, he showed me a funny little stuffed animal he had scored.

"What's that?" I asked.

"It's funking," he said.

The word kept coming up during the day, as interesting words tend to do when they first get the attention of 4-year-olds.

"Zurg looks like a funking buckethead," Corwin declared as his Buzz Lightyear action figure did battle with the Evil Emperor, whose head does sort of look like an upside-down bucket with eye slots in it. Whether or not it's a hip look for Zurg, I can't say.

"Bingo is such a funking dog," he said at another point. "Can we put him outside?" Again, I didn't know what to make of it. The original meaning of "funky" before it became a pop cultural term was "malodorous." That certainly describes our Shar-pei Bingo.

Later in the day I tried to amuse him by plunking out a simple rendition of "The Knick Knack Song" on a toy keyboard and he muttered something derogatory about my "funking music." Well, I did my best to put some backbeat into it, but this white boy is no Vanilla Ice.

When Corwin's eyes started getting bleary and I put him down for his nap, I let him take a couple of little toy horses, which we galloped around the bed before he fell asleep.

"My horse is running as fast as an eagle in the wind," I said.

"My horse is funking," he replied, and I sat in a funk of my own as he dozed.

I'm pretty sure Corwin means "funky" but you can never be certain with children and I can't get it off my dirty mind.

On the drive home after I dropped him off Sunday I was listening to an oldies show on the radio and the host was talking about a dance called the "Funky Chicken." I couldn't help but wonder exactly what those dancers were doing to that bird.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at

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