Cocoa Puff or Cocoa Puffs: The language of nothing

We have a little family tradition. When we grocery shopping the weekend before your birthday, you can choose one box of any cereal you want-no restrictions. In the weeks and months leading up to the grand event, much time is spent in the cereal aisle weighing the advantages of the various sugar-laden options.

The week before turning five, Tabitha nearly dropped the ball. She just grabbed the first box of anything at hand. I don’t remember what it was, but it seemed out of character for her. I reminded her of the cereals she had been coveting as recently as the previous week.

She went for the generic Cocoa Puffs.

I steered her towards the real deal. If you’re only gonna eat ’em once a year, you might as well have the sugar-addled bird bouncing off the box in front of you, right?

Sugar-addled bird

One morning shortly afterwards, we had this conversation:

Tabitha: Do I have Cocoa Puffs or Cocoa Puff in my hand?

Me: Well, you have four Cocoa Puffs.

T: [with only one in her hand now] Do I have Cocoa Puffs or Cocoa Puff?

Me: You have Cocoa Puff.

T: [huge smile] Right!

Me: [with empty hand displayed] Do I have Cocoa Puffs or Cocoa Puff in my hand?

T: [silent but smirking]

Me: Well…Is it Cocoa Puff or Cocoa Puffs?

T: [continued silence]

Me: I have zero…

T: [bigger smile]

Me: …Cocoa…

T: Puffs!

Me: Yeah. Isn’t that weird? If you have one, it’s Puff; if you have none it’s Puffs.

T: I knew that.

Me: Of course you did.

T: No! I knew that; I was showing you that [you had zero] by not saying anything-zero words!


5 responses to “Cocoa Puff or Cocoa Puffs: The language of nothing

  1. In French, zero is singular

  2. akismet-457375c2686d2ce6aa9740f00ee2f8f4

    This is such a wonderful anecdote. Of course, what it demonstrates in part is how much brighter and more clever young kids are than we expect/realize. I hope you share this story with her when she’s old enough to appreciate it from an adult perspective. She’ll no doubt amaze herself.

  3. I’ve had this same discussion in my own head for several years. Fun to think about!

  4. Glad it resonated, Paul. If you liked that one, perhaps you will enjoy speculating about whether a dozen eggs is or a a dozen eggs are.

  5. Pingback: Cookies | Overthinking my teaching

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