Tabitha on the well ordering of adjectives

Tabitha and Griffin enjoy each other’s company. She is 5; he is 8. They play well together and are quite close. One of their favorite pastimes is called creatures. They have built an elaborate society of small (mostly) plastic animals. Some creatures have farms; others are farmed. There are towns. There is currency. As near as I can tell, dogs are at the top of the food chain and all manner of poultry at the bottom.

The net result of all of this activity—from the adult perspective—is that each session of creatures makes a tremendous mess of the upstairs hallway and of their shared bedroom. There was once a creature diaspora which resulted in settlements on the first floor. We were stepping on small plastic animals for days so this is no longer allowed.

Tonight Griffin was out of the house when I had Tabitha choose the part of the clean up she wished to do. She chose to pick up the small plastic creatures, leaving the blocks for her brother on his return.

She was feeling sassy.

The definition of small plastic creatures was asked about again and again. Does this count? (Holding a rubber snake.) Does this count? (Displaying a wooden lion.) Et cetera.

Finally, she honed in on small.

Tabitha: Which is smaller, small or little?

Me: Hmmm…I don’t know. Like if you introduced me to your small friend and your little friend, who would be smaller? I think maybe they’re synonyms; they just mean the same thing.

T: No. Little is smaller, I think.

Me: I know tiny is smaller than little. And teeny tiny is smaller than that.

T: Here’s how it is. Teeny tiny is smaller than tiny. Tiny is smaller than littleLittle is smaller than small. Small is smaller than medium. Medium is smaller than bigBig is smaller than giant.

Me: But giant isn’t smaller than anything, is it?

T: Uh huh! Giant is smaller than gigantic. Gigantic is smaller than humungous. Humungous is smaller than 11 daddies.

Me: So is tiny smaller than humungous?

T: Of course! Way smaller!

Me: How do you know that?

T: Because of the order.

Me: OK. Where does large fit?

T: [thinking] Wait. I’ll do it all over again with large in it.

[most of the list deleted to save the reader’s frazzled nerves]…is smaller than big. Big is smaller than large. Large is smaller than giantHumungous is smaller than 11 daddies. Eleven daddies is smaller than 12 daddies. Twelve daddies is smaller than 500 daddies. Then that would never end.


3 responses to “Tabitha on the well ordering of adjectives

  1. Reminds me of that old joke: who is bigger, Mr. Bigger or Mr. Bigger’s baby? Answer: Mr. Bigger’s baby. Why? Because he’s a little Bigger….

  2. Lol, ‘Here’s how it is…’ ! Perfect 5yo speak. This is wonderful conversation.

  3. Christopher
    I want you to know that this post spurred two great conversations in my Calc Honors classes today. We were talking about the mean value theorem and kids wanted to go straight for the formula. I insisted that they put some language to it first and we talked about how intuitive some math ideas are until we see definitions and formulas that make us doubt what we know.


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