The Various Meanings of “Don’t”

I love the English language. No, seriously, I do. I have so much fun with its quirks. I enjoy how several different words can be spelled differently, and yet pronounced the same. I love how several different words can be spelled the same, and yet pronounced differently. And of course, I love how one single word, spelled and pronounced the same way, can have so many different meanings. These inconsistencies are where puns and wordplay are born, and if you have been reading around here for a while, you know that I adore this linguistic raillery.

With such a wide and ever-expanding language, there are constantly new things to learn and take in. For instance, it wasn’t until I became a parent that I fully realized just how many meanings there are to the word “don’t.” I thought, naively, that it meant that you ought to not do the thing following it. “Don’t do that” meant that you should not, in fact, do that. But what did I know? For you non-parents out there who may be confused, and especially for you new parents out there who are definitely confused, here are some of the less commonly known meanings of the word “don’t.”

  1. “DO IT LATER” – I can’t tell you how many times I have told my children not to do something, only to find them doing it later. I watch them stop the forbidden activity, confident that they have gotten the message, and then BAM! The next day, or an hour later, or five minutes later, there they are doing it again. I must have used the wrong version of the word.
  2. “DO IT SOMEWHERE ELSE”  – Apparently when I say “don’t do that,” what I sometimes mean is “don’t do that where I can see you doing it.” My children know this. They will frequently hear me say “don’t,” and then go into the next room to continue whatever it is that they ought not to have been doing. And often it is something like “blowing a shrill whistle that they got from some monster’s birthday party goody bag as loudly as possible,” so I know they are not trying to hide the fact that they are still doing it from me. I can clearly hear them still blowing the whistle. They must have assumed that I was using this alternate meaning of “don’t.”
  3. “ADJUST HOW YOU ARE DOING IT” – “Ah,” my children will say, “Dad has said ‘don’t throw toys in the house,’ so he must mean that we ought to toss the toys in the house.” See, you had no idea, did you, that when you ask children not to do something, you are really asking them to just slightly adjust the way in which it is being done. And then, when you call them out on it, they will whine and complain and fight to the bitter end, believing that they really did stop what you asked them to stop. Because tossing and throwing are totally different. Duh. Children would all make excellent lawyers.
  4. “DO IT, BUT MORE, AND ADD AN EVIL SMILE” – This is perhaps my children’s favorite definition of the word “don’t.” According to the Jerksford Dictionary for Children, “don’t” can mean to increase the intensity of the activity while glaring maliciously at the speaker. “Don’t shake that bottle, you are getting drips everywhere,” for instance, will tell the person to shake the bottle much harder, spilling the contents all over the living room, and to stare down the person who dared to tell them “don’t” while smiling as widely as possible. It is not necessary to add a maniacal laugh, but it helps.

So if you are planning on having children, or are planning on being around children soon, or are somehow accidentally transported to a “Chuck E. Cheese’s” on a Saturday, it would do you well to remember these various meanings of “don’t” so that you are not surprised at the results of your words. And if you are already a parent, well, can I get an “amen?”

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Posted in Children, Humor, Language, Parenting.

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