What by Malika Dickerson

What’s that Little Plastic Thing Called?
It’s called an aglet but many people and certainly not many kids know that – why not?

The little plastic thing at the end of your shoelaces, that’s an aglet. But instead of finding out what it actually is called, we call it the little plastic thingy or something like that. With so much information at the tip of our fingers, it’s much easier to find the answers to questions like this, but you also need the curiosity to want to know.
Memory coaches say that “a large lexicon helps open our minds.” But with answers to questions so easily accessible, I think we’re losing that natural curiosity. When I give book readings I tell kids the story of how I learned the word “cantankerous.”
To The Big Red Book
One day I was watching the miniseries, The Women of Brewster Place. Ciel, played by Lynne Whitfield said to Mattie, played by Oprah Winfrey, something like, ‘I have no time for you and your cantankerous moods.’ I had never heard the word before and instead of asking what the word was, I went to the big red dictionary to look it up like I had been taught to do.
I didn’t know how to spell it, so I sounded it out but it sounded like ‘kertankerous’ to me. It didn’t seem right but I started in the K’s anyway. No such word as kertankerous. I did however learn a few K words just out of curiosity while I was there. There was nothing like that under the K’s, so I went to the C’s.
Eventually after about a half an hour, there it was – cantankerous: “bad-tempered, argumentative, and uncooperative.” I’ve never forgotten that word, mainly because I had to search so long to figure it out. It’s also a word I rarely hear. And as my dad gets older, I use it to describe him more and more!

Image from: Published on Feb 21, 2013
The point is that it doesn’t matter how high your IQ is. What matters is what you feed your brain that determines intelligence. The brain is a muscle and just like any muscle, if you exercise it, it will get stronger. To this day, if I hear a word that I’ve never heard before, I look it up – just out of curiosity.
It’s CQ (Curiosity Quotient) Not IQ that Makes You Smart
Last week, a friend of mine saw a word somewhere that she had never seen before. I asked her what it was and I spelled it out – I was one letter off! The word was ostrobogulous (I spelled that without looking it up and it’s not even in my Word dictionary!). It means, “Humorous. Used after Neuburg to designate something that is slightly risqué or indecent. Also applied arbitrarily to things which are bizarre, interesting, or unusual in some other way.”
Granted, I’m a writer and a wordsmith. I’ve always liked learning new words and spelling them. I grew up as the walking dictionary/thesaurus in my house (and still am). People think that I’m pretty smart but the truth is I can credit much of my encyclopedic knowledge to plain old curiosity.
“What is the Box Containing?”
So in everything that I write, especially my children’s books, I try to spark that curiosity in the reader to want to learn more or just to learn something new. I think too often we teach down to kids. There’s a scene in one of my favorite TV shows, Modern Family, when Lily gets a package in the mail. Her dads tell her that she’s got a package. She says, “Yay! A package!”

Image from: “Little Bo Bleep” is the thirteenth episode from Season 3 of Modern Family, it aired on January 18, 2012.
The Mitch character says, “Containing…” His partner Cam whispers to him, “She doesn’t know the word containing.” Mitch says, “That’s how she learns new words.” Lily interrupts and says, “What is the package containing?” Close enough! My children’s book, Dog Gone Shame, is elementary school level, but it contains words like:
• Exist
• Abandoned
• Annoyed
• Unfit
• Encouragingly
• Confidently
• Trio
• Memorized
These are words that kids, even seven year olds, likely hear all of the time but may not know what they actually mean. Maybe these words are above a second grade level, but in the words of Mitch – “That’s how she learns new words.”