Does anyone else remember the game most us played with our very small children? Show me your mouth. Your elbow. Your toes. Your belly-button. Mine could play this game over and over without tiring, and I admit that I usually enjoyed it too, especially the challenge of finding new parts to identify. I remember one mum accosting me at preschool to ask if I really had to teach my son the word uvula at age three. I was completely stymied; even in conservative Zimbabwe this seemed rather excessive. Only afterwards in the car did I realise the source of her confusion (and to this day often have my best ah-ha moments while driving).
I still love naming. One of my recent indulgences was the purchase of the Oxford Visual English Dictionary, with its more than 6000 illustrations grouped into twenty thematic chapters and including subjects as diverse as cereals to diacritic symbols to turbofan engines (chosen at random by flipping blindly to a page). So when I need to know what the black rubbery thingummy on a windscreen wiper is called, I can look up windscreen wiper in the index, turn to the appropriate picture, and learn that it’s a wiper blade rubber. A term that is perhaps not so arcane, but then there’s the tension spring and pivot spindle, neither of which I’d have ever guessed. Sigh of relief – now I can complete that description in my new chapter.
It’s the kind of book I can browse endlessly, and would happily carry off for a bedtime snuggle if it didn’t weigh, with its large-format 950 pages, as much as a small toddler. However, it affords me almost as much pleasure – and doesn’t need a nappy or throw a temper tantrum.